Sexual harassment is a very real and sensitive issue in the workplace. In this lesson, we will discuss sexual harassment, what it means and what it can do to the work environment.
An Unfortunate Issue
It's an unfortunate state of business today that sexual harassment is still present in the workplace. While there have been great advances over the years to reduce or eliminate this issue, we should not be naive enough to believe it has completely gone away. To fully understand and deal with sexual harassment, we have to first understand what it is.
Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks or any other offensive sexually motivated material or communication. In other words, we can understand that any type of sexual advance from one person to another that is not mutually welcomed is sexual harassment. A common misconception is that sexual harassment only affects women. This is not true. Women can also make sexual advances or comments to men, causing them to feel sexually harassed.
Aspects of Sexual Harassment
It is important that we take a little bit of time to talk about this issue in a broader sense. You see, sexual harassment does not have to be physical or even sexual in nature. It could even include remarks that could be considered offensive about an individual sex or sexual orientation. For example, a woman might feel sexually harassed if a man makes a sexual comment about women in general.
Thus, the scope of this issue is broad and can include a woman, men or same sex - it really does not make a difference. Once again, if the advances of a physical or verbal nature are deemed offensive by the person they are targeted at, it is sexual harassment. And while we all understand that we can tease people and make some offhand comments, there is a line that is crossed when those comments create a hostile work environment.
Hostile Work Environment
Just because someone is mean to you at work or is always angry does not mean you work in a hostile work environment. Once again, we are talking about the sexual harassment aspect of this issue as it prevails in a work setting. In this case, that is what makes the work setting a hostile environment.
Thus, a hostile work environment, as it relates to sexual harassment, happens when an individual must deal with advances, sexual comments or any type of offensive gender-related language that is beyond what could be defined as reasonable. Two words that we must remember when we talk about hostile work environments is the harassment must be serious or pervasive. In this case, serious means that the advances are unwanted, and pervasive means they occur at more than one time and are frequent enough to alter how the people feel about them coming to work.
Let's take a look at an example of sexual harassment in a work setting. Meet Dave. Hi, Dave. He works at Big Bob's Furniture Depot as a salesman. Veronica works in the credit department, and she has a bit of a crush on Dave. Dave, on the other hand, does not feel the same way about Veronica. Ever since the Christmas party, where Dave gave Veronica a secret Santa gift, Veronica has been making remarks about Dave's appearance, the way he moves and even some things they could do in the kitchen section of Big Bob's Furniture! Oh my!
Dave has told Veronica that he isn't interested, and he has even asked her to stop saying those things, but she still continues. This makes her advances both serious and pervasive. In fact, Dave has begun to avoid the credit department entirely for fear that he'll have to see Veronica. Whenever he makes a sale, he asks one of his buddies to take the customer to the credit department to fill out the paperwork. These advances have caused Dave to lose money on his commissions, and he has even become agitated and anxious about going to work. Poor Dave!
What Can Be Done
So what can Dave, or anyone else, do to stop the sexual harassment? The first thing a person should do is to review his or her organization's sexual harassment policy. Once the policy is understood, it is best to speak to human resources to explain the situation and how he or she feels. In most cases, human resources will act immediately to rectify the situation. However, if they do not, Dave, and anyone else in his situation, is well within his rights to seek legal action to end the sexual harassment and the hostile work environment.
As we discussed, sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks or any other offensive sexually motivated material or communication. This harassment can lead to a hostile work environment, as it can come to make an individual uncomfortable or feel unsafe in their job.
It is up to the person being harassed to determine what they believe is serious or pervasive and to present their case to human resources to address and end the harassment. If that does not give the individual the results or satisfaction they require, they are well within their rights to seek legal retribution.
When this lesson is over, you should be able to:
- Understand what constitutes sexual harassment
- Recognize aspects of a hostile work environment created by sexual harassment
- Provide the meanings of serious and pervasive as they pertain to a hostile work environment
- Realize what can be done if sexual harassment occurs