"Sexual Harassment Policies
Should Be Clear, Reviewed"
Dr. Connie Sitterly
Certified Management Consultant
a fanny here, share an off-color joke there, E-mail or voice
mail an X-rated message, share the Playmate of the Month centerfold
with your colleagues - it's all in fun - or is it? What's the
matter with comparing the secretary's body parts with the Centerfolds'
- can't she take a joke? "She" since 9 out of 10 times it's
the male who harasses. However, men are harassed, too.
From Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, media has tuned in, as
well as employers, to one of our most serious, sensitive, confusing,
and costly workplace issues - SEXUAL HARASSMENT. It's illegal,
recognized as an offense under Title VII since 1977.
Research shows that 90% of Fortune 500 companies have dealt
with sexual harassment complaints. More than a third have been
sued at least once, a quarter have been sued over and over,
costing the average large corporation $6.7 million a year. It's
not uncommon for an employer to spend an average of $200,000
on each complaint that is investigated in-house and found to
be valid, whether or not it ever gets to court.
Just as a manager wouldn't likely tolerate theft, allow absenteeism
or lowered productivity go unheeded, neither can rumors, claims,
or observations of harassment. While negotiating raises or promotions
contingent upon sexual favors, such as, "My decision will be
based on your decision to sleep with me," others claims to hold
up in court must rest on either a persistent and calculated
pattern of antisocial behavior. Sexual harassment, though, usually
isn't about sex -as it's about power, the abuse of power, whether
it's with supervisors, co-workers, even outsiders.
Can you still be pals? Can you ask a friend for a drink? Can
you ask a colleague out on a date? According to Equal Opportunity
Commission guidelines which defines sexual harassment and delineates
two types of illegal conduct, there are a few things that can
not be tolerated.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other
verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual
to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly
as a term or condition of an individual's employment.
to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used
as the bias for employment decisions affecting such individual.
conduct has the purpose or affect of unreasonably interfering
with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating,
hostile, or offensive environment.
EEOC definition sets two criteria for sexual harassment: that
the conduct in question is both unwelcome and of a sexual nature.
While posters, magazines, and/or flyers of a sexual nature,
rape, physical assault may all seem obvious - ogling, staring,
lewd comments, questions about personal life, dirty/sexual jokes,
unwanted requests for dates, obscene poems, patting, grabbing,
pinching, kissing are also considered sexual harassment behaviors.
Popular press has heightened some misconceptions of sexual harassment
such as the fear of prohibiting social interaction between the
sexes. However, sexual harassment is not considered to be a
friendly, normal, pleasant interaction, as long as no reasonable
person is offended. Common sense, common courtesy, and mutual
respect help to create a workplace where both sexes can enjoy
each other's company and achieve the purpose of the workplace
- accomplish our work.
It is not a perfect world. Some lack common sense, common courtesy
and mutual respect. Therefore, it is in the best interest of
most organizations to prevent harassment from occurring and
to create, at a minimum, a hostile-free environment, still a
long way from teamwork and effective communication really needed
to achieve business objectives. Just imagine....
Imagine trying to produce error free work on a computer or using
a knife in a kitchen while someone from the back begins touching
. . . .
Imagine the exchange of communication with a supervisor who
repeatedly asks to you go to a motel, although you have repeatedly
Just imagine endless possible scenarios undermining confidence,
self-esteem, productivity, turnover, quality, service, and teamwork.
Perhaps now is a good time to reassess if your organization
and management is doing enough, and if not - why not?
Does you organization provide the following measures:
well distributed sexual harassment policy in two or more
languages if applicable?
philosophy states disapproval of harassing actions?
complaints in a timely manner?
and monitor managers who do not follow company policy or
employees to share concerns?
repeatedly communicated by management that sexual harassment
will not be tolerated?
clear procedures for handling complaints?
an impartial person, usually in the human resources department,
as a contact point?
ongoing, comprehensive sexual harassment training and guidance
(in two or more languages, if applicable) to understand
what sexual harassment is and what it is not, and the consequences,
procedures, and importance of an atmosphere free from harassment?
up clear policy and procedures regarding sexual harassment so
employees know where and how to report sexual harassment. Be
sensitive to the importance of an employee's complaint, ensuring
that the complaint is promptly and fairly investigated."
Just as we would not tolerate erosion of morale or lowered productivity,
we must not tolerate sexual harassment. It's impact to both
company and individuals is profound. While putting a price tag
on self-esteem or self-image may seem difficult, many court
judgments seem able to do so. Regardless of the impetus currently
given this issue, is it sufficient to prepare to meet our challenges
to create a productive, enjoyable workplace.
Copyright, Connie Sitterly,
all rights reserved.