A survey found that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. In the workplace, sexual harassment remains to be a serious problem, with 81% of employees believing that it happens in their place of work.
The Department of State defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
- An employment decision affecting that individual is made because the individual submitted to or rejected the unwelcome conduct; or
- The unwelcome conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.
Examples of conduct or behavior that constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Display of sexually explicit or suggestive material
- Sexually-suggestive gestures
- Comments on an employee’s appearance, age, private life, etc.
- Sexual comments, stories, and jokes
- Sexual advances
- Repeated and unwanted invitations to dates or physical intimacy
- Insults based on the sex of the employee
- Condescending or misogynistic remarks
- Unwelcome physical contact including patting, stroking, pinching, kissing, hugging, fondling, or inappropriate touching
- Physical violence, including sexual assault
- The use of job-related threats or rewards to solicit sexual favors
- Physical contact such as touching, pinching
Responding to Workplace Sexual Harassment
An employee who is subjected to sexual harassment can immediately confront the harasser and tell him or her to stop. If that does not work, or he or she is unable to confront the harasser, he or she can report the incident to their immediate supervisor and/or to the Human Resources department. While not required, it would be helpful to provide a record of the date and time of the incident, as well as the nature of the incident, and a list of witnesses, if any.
Managers and supervisors must be well-equipped in handling sexual harassment complaints from their subordinates. Whether or not it is a written, formal complaint, and regardless of how minor or who is involved in the incident, they must take every complaint and allegation of sexual harassment seriously and fairly. They must report all incidents to the HR in order for the investigation to occur promptly. Failure to do so, as well as to knowingly allow or tolerate such behaviors in the workplace, would be a violation to the company’s sexual harassment policy.
The Human Resources department is responsible for investigating sexual harassment cases. It is, first and foremost, responsible for cascading the sexual harassment policy in the company and ensuring that every employee in all ranks acknowledges such policy. In case of sexual harassment complaint, the HR director is responsible for making sure that both the complainant and the accused are aware of the seriousness of the allegation. He or she is responsible for arranging an investigation and preparing and submitting a written report. After the investigation, he or she must notify the complainant and the respondent of the corrective actions to be taken; and must administer those actions. He or she is also the one who decides whether a third-party investigation is necessary in a case.
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