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Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

 

People have been dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace for decades. Recently however, more individuals have started to shed light on this issue, which has prompted a strong movement of putting an end to this type of discrimination among the work force.

In 2017 alone, nearly 7,000 charges alleging sexual harassment were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Of those allegations, low-wage workers, especially in the restaurant industry, were more likely to report a claim of this type of abuse.

Wherever you work, whether you’re a healthcare professional or not, everyone is entitled to work in a place where sexual harassment isn’t tolerated. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or even hurt by other individuals they may be working with or working for.

In 2017, the #Metoo movement swept through the United States bringing a fresh focus on sexual harassment in the work place. But the Supreme Court, in the late 1980’s, interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include discrimination based on “sex” as sexual harassment in the workplace. So, what exactly then defines sexual harassment?

What Defines Sexual Harassment?

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It is a fairly common practice to take some type of course concerning sexual harassment in the workplace while starting a new job. Thankfully, CEUfast offers a course dedicated to this topic, and gives some insight on how sexual harassment is defined.

Sexual harassment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is the frequent or severe behavior, usually of a sexual or gender nature that is unwanted or unwelcome behavior that affects job performance. These instances occur daily in business, education, industry, the military, medicine and religious organizations. The person who does the harassing can be a direct supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, a physician, or someone outside of the organization, such as a pharmaceutical representative, visitor or patient.

The U.S. EEOC also states that it’s unlawful in any way to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Within this scope, harassment can include “sexual harassment”, which includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of sexual nature.

To break it down, the EEOC defines sexual harassment as:

  • The victim can be male or female and does not have to the of the opposite sex from the harasser
  • The harasser can be anyone from the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or nonemployee, such as a vendor or customer
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim
  • The conduct by the harasser must be unwelcome

It’s also important to note that sexual harassment behavior doesn’t have to only include sex. It can be broken down into three categories: Verbal conduct, non-verbal conduct, and unwelcome physical contact. Verbal conduct includes using vulgar language, making lewd comments, or using sexual insults, jokes or innuendo, making sexual advances or requesting sexual favors. Non-verbal conduct includes using sexual gestures, displaying or sending sexually suggestive or pornographic pictures or objects, including posts on social media. And lastly, unwelcome physical contact involved touching, pinching, patting, brushing against the body, kissing, or cornering or impeding another person’s movement, and criminal behavior including sexual assault and rape.

With every work place come different work cultures and their own set of rules, but dealing with sexual harassment shouldn’t be something new. In fact, each workplace should have some type of harassment policy already set up so that employees and staff can work in a peaceful environment. But what happens if they don’t?

What Can You Do to Stop It?

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Although every situation is different, there are a few ways of dealing with sexual harassment if you or someone that you know is being mistreated.

So, what should you do in the case where someone is sexually harassing you?

  • Say no – As easy as that sounds, the one legal requirement for sexual harassment is that the conduct be “unwelcome,” and therefore you should make sure the harasser knows this. You can tell the harasser that his or her behavior offends you.
  • Report harassment to your employer – This step is very important as the employer must know or have reason to know about the harassment in order to be legally responsible for a coworker, client or customer’s sexually harassing conduct. You can report to your supervisor, the human resources department or a department or person within the company who has the power to stop the harassment. When you make the complaint, be sure to keep a copy of any paper filed, which creates a record of when you complained and what happened in response to the complaint.
  • Write it down – As soon as you experience the harassment, start writing down exactly what happened, and be sure to be as specific as possible. Write down dates, places, times and possible witnesses to what happened.
  • Talk to others – If you trust in someone and can do so safely, try to talk to others about the harassment. You may find witnesses, allies or others that have been harassed by the same person or who would be willing to support you. You can tell supportive friends, family members, and colleagues about the abuse.

Fortunately, many employers typically have a good system in place in case someone needs to file a complaint. However, that’s not always the case and it may be up to the individual to seek help and find a solution.

Working Towards a Better Future

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Typically, everyone will eventually run into some issues of mistreatment in the workplace. However, promoting a harassment-free environment can better your chances of having fewer incidents and be more likely a positive place for your employees to work without having to worry.

In order to work towards a better workplace without harassment, try to stay in front of it. Meaning, if you observe harassment in the workplace, whether or not the victim complains, try to make efforts to stop it and put management on notice. Telling a supervisor about the situation can help de-escalate the situation before it becomes worse.

There are a couple other steps that you and your coworkers can take to help prevent harassment in the workplace. One is by making sure your employer has an anti-harassment policy in place. And if not, see if they can create one and be sure to go over it with their employees. Encourage your employees to speak up about harassment, such as asking them to say something if they see something that doesn’t seem right.

Sexual harassment is bothersome, demeaning, irritating and unwanted by anyone that encounters it. Not to mention, it’s illegal. Taking steps to prevent it can help save someone that is being harmed and being made uncomfortable in the workplace. There are also hotlines and whistleblower protections in place in every state to prevent retaliation from reporting. So, whatever the case, no one should have to deal with sexual harassment in the work place. If you see it, recognize it, report it and follow up with it until it’s resolved.