IT Employment

10 things you should know about sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a workplace reality that requires managers to be vigilant and well informed. Here are some key issues every manager needs to be aware of.

Sexual harassment can hurt your organization, its culture, and your employees. Here are some ways it can affect your company, along with several things you can do to prevent or deal with it.

Impact on the organization

1: Cost

If a sexual harassment action arises against your organization, the costs could be high if the case goes to trial. In 2009, a jury in Puerto Rico awarded a former company employee $965,999 because of inappropriate behavior by her boss. In 2006, a jury in Missouri awarded a woman $6.8 million because of numerous comments her supervisor made to her about her body or about sex.

However, even if a matter settles outside of court, your organization will still probably have to pay the other side, as well as your own attorneys. According to a 1994 report [PDF] by U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), sexual harassment cost the U.S. government $327 million between 1992 and 1994.

2: Negative publicity

If a sexual harassment matter causes your organization's name to be on the front page of your local newspaper or to become a trending topic on Twitter, people are bound to react negatively. Customers or clients might take their business elsewhere.

3: Productivity and morale

Left unchecked, sexual harassment will kill productivity and morale. According to the MSPB report, individual and workgroup productivity losses totaled almost $200 million between 1992 and 1994. Such productivity losses include time spent worrying about harassing behavior, avoiding a harasser, and discussing the problem with coworkers.

4: Turnover and absenteeism

Turnover and absenteeism will increase as people seek to avoid harassing behavior or experience stress because of it. The MSPB study concluded that turnover and absenteeism cost $40 million between 1992 and 1994.

Dealing with sexual harassment

5: Recognize the types

Federal law defines sexual harassment occurs in two ways. The first is the quid pro quo: A harasser demands sexual favors in return for keeping or advancing in a job, receiving a salary increase, or other job-related matters. The second is the hostile work environment: A situation where behavior or words are of a sexual nature to such a degree that the workplace becomes intimidating, offensive, or hostile.

One type of harassment can exist without the other, or they can appear simultaneously. Examples of a hostile work environment include the sending of offensive email, the display of inappropriate photos, or the conducting of inappropriate conversations.

At the federal level, sexual harassment matters fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is considered a form of discrimination based on sex. Sexual harassment is covered under state law as well.

6: Develop an enforceable policy

Make sure that you have a policy that addresses the issue. The policy should define sexual harassment and outline acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Most important, the policy should state the consequences for those who violate it.

Once the policy is in place, make sure that it is enforced. The complete lack of a policy, or else the failure to enforce it, could be ammunition for the other side. They could argue, for example, that you were negligent in not having or not enforcing a policy.

7: Implement a reporting procedure

Create a procedure by which employees can report sexual harassment. This procedure must not only be in place, but it must be made known to employees. To the greatest extent possible, the procedure should protect the confidentiality of the person who makes the report. The procedure should also, to the greatest extent possible, attempt to protect that person from reprisals. Investigation of complaints should occur as soon as possible.

8: Provide training

On a regular basis, conduct training for your organization. Such training may deter those who are bent on engaging in sexual harassment by making them aware of the legal and career consequences. Such training can also benefit those who do not intentionally engage in such behavior, by making them aware that their actions could be interpreted that way.

9: Monitor the office

Keep in tune with what is going on in your office. In particular, watch for the inappropriate behavior, photos, or email. If employees know that management is engaged in such monitoring, the chances that sexual harassment will occur will be lowered.

10: Investigate complaints

Take complaints seriously. Get as much detail as you can from the person: Who the offending party is, when and where the incidents occurred, and the nature of the incidents. Afterward, talk to the other person and get his or her side of the story. When you do, be as objective as possible and avoid jumping to conclusions or being judgmental. Keep the investigation confidential and remind all parties of your sexual harassment policy, in particular any non-retaliation provisions it might include.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

40 comments
Dukhalion
Dukhalion

Where can I get this sexual harrassment that everybody keeps talking about? There's none where I work.

kirkbubul
kirkbubul

Citing statistics from 18 to 20 years ago is pretty lame. I know that government is slow, but 20 years slow? Seems like lazy authorship to me.

chdchan
chdchan

Should some girls putting on over-sexy outfits shun up the probability of being harassed (incl. eye-sight) by more conservative appearance? i.e. Don't pour honey if you don't want to invite bees. By the way, my wife welcomes my harassment a lot.

jonrosen
jonrosen

It's often blown so hugely out of proportion it may as well be a joke. As 'sissy sue' stated just above: 'People who are looking for reasons to be offended will always find what they are looking for.' This is sadly too true, and like far too many things, it's simply too easy to accuse, and too hard to defend against.

Engine Air
Engine Air

The wretched society is that where lawyers domineer over the Law

Snak
Snak

"No. I held it open because I'm a gentleman"

chdchan
chdchan

There are always people including me talking filthy jokes to others. Is this supposed harassment act?

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

I also know (actually we all learned during the 1990's) that there is one person who apparently is free to commit sexual harassment in the workplace, that person of course being Bill Clinton. We know this because his lying and obstruction of justice in the course of the investigations about this were apparently OK, too. Many, many people in this country (people on the Left side of the political fence) proclaimed that the people who were prosecuting him for these things were the ones who were wrong. As history was re-written about all that, it is overlooked that the whole thing started because he was sued by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. (any citizen in this country can sue another citizen). And when that was not overlooked, then Paula Jones was proclaimed by many to be "trailer trash" and so the courts were supposed to ignore the lawsuit, I guess. The Left side of the political fence says so. What I do not understand to this day, and never will, is why Bill Clinton does not have to live by the same standard of conduct that everybody else should live by. If it is wrong to commit sexual harassment, and it is wrong, then why is it OK for Bill Clinton?

maj37
maj37

I have often considered filing a hostile work environment claim against some of the women around here for wearing clothing that is overly revealing. To me this is no different than the guy that has a swimsuit calendar on his wall and the women getting upset about it.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

for rude or abusive conduct toward another person based on their manner of dress. [u]None[/u]. And if the attention or conduct is welcomed by the subject, it is, by definition, not harassment.

sissy sue
sissy sue

When our lawmakers primarily come from the legal profession? Our society has become way too thin-skinned. And the lawyers love it! People who are looking for reasons to be offended will always find what they are looking for.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

If the person receiving the [i]"Joke"[/i] is offended then it's Harassment. But if you open a door for someone and they are offended by that act you have also committed a Sexual Harassment Act. ;) Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If it's just you and your friends in a private location or isolated area, and you swap 'filthy' or sexually-oriented jokes as part of your friendship, I would say no. If you swap them in the hallways at work, while other people are around, then that could be considered part of a hostile work environment. If somebody finds such jokes offensive, even if they don't tell you, and you continue to tell such jokes in their presence, that has been interpreted as harassment. Better to be safe than sorry, and not tell such jokes at work.

a.portman
a.portman

Nice, you are a Republican. How about canning the politics for a second.

MarkFreed
MarkFreed

I think that it was not adequate how this whole sexual harassment thing was mixed up with politics. That' what counts at the end of the day, even though I am not at all happy with everything Bill Cllinton did as a president. What he is doing with his bodily fluids does not affect my judgement of his presidency, though.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

because she failed to show damages. Clinton was impeached by the House for perjury and obstruction of justice based on his testimony during pre-trial deposition. The Senate declined to convict. That's the end of it. 15 years after the fact, I still don't understand the flap. Americans knew he couldn't keep his pants up, and [b]still[/b] elected him to the Office of President...twice. Let it go, and join the 21st century.

littletony11208
littletony11208

1-Wear a tight pant, supplemented and augmented if need be. 2-Go to chat with the (preferably seated) revealing-clothed aggressor. 3-When she started fluffing up her hair, you grab and reposition slightly your pant's fork. 4-Repeat. Until she defiles you. Then sue. Then buy a BMW.

jonrosen
jonrosen

I don't recall who the comedian was, I want to say Steve Harvey. The gist was this: Don't judge someone by their clothes. Clothes are like uniforms, they give clues as to what people are and what they do. I see a police uniform, I think they are a police officer, I treat them accordingly and I give them respect. I see a Judge's robes, I think they are a Judge, I treat them accordingly and I give them respect. I see a streetwalker's clothes, I think they are a streetwalker and I treat them accordingly. (end) I've worked many places, and often the double-standard of gender is simply idiotic in terms of dress codes. It can be 100F in the office with no A/C. Guys must wear slacks or jeans, a full-sleeve shirt. Maaaybe if they're lucky short-sleeve. Women can wear skirts that would make a streetwalker blush, shorts that may as well be hotpants, and blouses that may as well be gauze, etc... And be safe from comment. I understand 'dress to impress', however, you dress to show off everything without a hiding much is not doing that. Some pull it off, many don't. But if you're a guy and you comment one way or another, EVEN SAYING THAT THEY LOOK GOOD, it can be sexual harassment. Sorry, that's just BS.

maj37
maj37

It is sexual harassment only if they can show that you only hold doors open for people of the opposite gender, if you can show that you also hold doors open for people of the same gender then it shouldn't be able to be classed a sexual harassment.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If you open a door for someone and they are offended by that act, it's not sexual harassment on your part, it's impolite on their part. I've had people complain once or twice. I shrug my shoulders, walk through the door, and let it close in their face. Karma...

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

Clinton committed sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is wrong. What Clinton did was wrong. Why is it wrong to mention that? Why is it wrong to mention that some people, including apparently you, think it is OK to give him a free pass on something that is wrong?

Thmiuatga
Thmiuatga

Clinton's attorney Bob Bennett (brother of Bill Bennett) found out that Clinton lied and submitted false evidence in the case to the judge so he filed a 'friend-of-the-court' brief to the judge informing her of this which forced her to reverse her ruling against Paula Jones, and imposed a 90k fine against Clinton and suspension. of his law license for 5 years. Revised history serves only those with something to hide.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

What with underwriting the policy of "let's kill some civilians to show we care" cruise missile world policing.

ozchorlton
ozchorlton

I had this happen, to me, once. My reply was, that I didn't open the door, because she was a lady, but because, I was a Gentleman! Can't remember where I got it from, but it worked!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Come out and investigate a Sexual Harassment Complaint against me that only involved opening a door and saying Good Morning. Of course the woman was very pregnant and had just found out that her Sailor Husband would not be home for the birth so she was more than slightly pi$$ed off. None the less it was a Sexual Harassment Complaint and I now ask before opening doors for anyone. Though I do completely agree that it's Impolite on their part. :D Didn't matter that the sliding Door was broken either apparently I'm supposed to have waited till she asked or hurt herself and slammed the door shut after I went through it rather than holding it open for her. ;) Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I was trying to understand why the fixation. That's the road we were on up until now. And your assumption about my political views must be incorrect, as I didn't even think of Fox News until you mentioned it.

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

You proclaim you are not going down the road, but you forget you are the one that started us down a road that was other than the original subject of this thread to begin with. You are already well down the road you say you are not going down. You have covered all the standard "bases" people on your apparent side of the political fence usually cover now except one - you have already indicated you believe yourself to be intellectually superior, and now you bring in talk radio. But...you forgot to mention Fox News!! (known to lefties as "Faux News"). That is one of the bolierplate things those on the left side of the political fence bring in rather than actual cogent arguments defending what they believe, but you must be getting sloppy because you forgot it!!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Although your first post should have given me a clue, I had not realized you bought into the talk-radio blame game. Have a nice day. :-)

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

With regard to the original subject, Clinton is subject to increased scrutiny because he was President. You say that many thousands of men have probably committed sexual harassment and gotten away with it. But is anybody running around saying it was OK for them to have done that? Or that we need to get over it? Yet this of course was the case with Clinton. As well as proclamations that lying and obstruction of justice were OK too. This whole episode is in the past now but at one point if was current and it was when it was current that people were giving Clinton a free pass on lying, obstructing, and sexual harassment. Others (your anonymous "many thousands of men") may have "gotten away with it" but not because they were intentionally given a free pass because of who they were.

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

Regarding your post entitled "Apparently"--- If somebody does not like the conditions at the place they work, then they should go somewhere else to work. It is that simple - it is backward when the employee can demand what their employer is to provide. You display your partisanship by making a comment about the economy and the Bush administration - the economy took the severe downturn that it did because of the aftereffects of the practice of granting mortgages to people who likely would not be able to pay them back - a program over the years that was promoted by Democrats. Why has the economy not recovered since then, when normally we would be in a significant recovery period by now? The answer is current administration policy. But you, as a partisan, blame President Bush, just like the current administration continues to do, also. And you proclaim I don't think the economy is important - how do you derive this from what I have posted? The subject was sexual harassment and not the economy (at least to begin with) so of course I did not at first comment on the economy. You are going overboard with your partisanship, which you can't defend when you get into the nitty-gritty explanation of why things happened the way they did.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The economy that's been in the tank since the last year of the Bush administration isn't very important to you. Obviously, by your response to my last post, you continue to miss the point. As I said earlier, many thousands of men have probably committed sexual harassment and gotten away with it. Why is Clinton any different from any of them? Is it because you know his name? Because he's a Democrat? Why? On the subject of requiring agencies sponsored by religious organizations to provide health insurance coverage they may find morally objectionable, answer one question: Is there a religious test for employment at these agencies? Do employees have to be of that religion? If so, then no, the agencies should not be forced to provide such coverage. If not, while such agencies may be religious in nature, they are not religious organizations and should comply with any laws & regulations that apply to other such organizations. Why should employees be denied coverage for standard medical procedures and treatments simply because their employer finds them objectionable?

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

You are the one who drifted off of the subject - obviously by your post "Nobody ever said it was okay" you view yourself as having great wisdom and others are apparently stupid. I show lack of knowledge of the real world? You must have been asleep for the last couple of weeks and thus have missed the controversy surrounding Obama administration efforts to require Catholic organizations to include contraception as part of their health insurance packages.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Do you want me to say he got away with it? Again? OK, he got away with it. Your further comments show a decided lack of knowledge of the real world. And your political rant reminds me of a couple of my neighbors, neither of whom demonstrates too strong a grasp of reality. One thinks the last president should have been impeached for treason and the other still believes the current President has no birth certificate.

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

I "fixate" on the subject of Clinton because Sexual Harassment is the subject of this thread. There have been a lot of things happen since 1998, but the subject of this thread was Sexual Harassment, not what else has happened in the country. Insurance companies in many places do cover the cost of Women's contraception - and now the Obama administration is attempting to force those institutions who do not believe in that (such as Catholic hospitals) to cover it anyway, thus taking away religious freedom. Women do not get paid less than a man for the same job. It would be against the law for a company to do so. Your general political rant (obviously from the left side of the political fence) leaves unanswered the question appropriate to this thread - why is engaging in Sexual harassment OK when Bill Clinton does it?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

or even tens of thousands who, just like him, committed sexual harassment and were not held legally accountable for their behavior. The only difference between them and him is that none of them (that we know of) were the Governor of Arkansas when it happened. Why is there a double standard as regards male and female sexual activity, where insurance companies cover the cost of the man's ED prescription, but don't cover the cost of the woman's contraception? Why is there a double standard as regards male and female pay, where women are more likely to be paid less for doing the same job as an equally qualified man? Why is there a double standard for crime, where those who ruin thousands of lives by fraud are sent to country club prisons for a matter of mere days per ruined life and those who ruin their own lives by using drugs spend decades in prison? There are double standards all around you, and this is the one you fixate on? As for letting it go, are you telling me that you think nothing more important than William Jefferson Clinton getting off on sexual harassment and perjury charges has happened since 1998?

stevenjchermak
stevenjchermak

I know why he was impeached. He was impeached for lying, obstructing justice, etc. Which all began because he sexually harassed Paula Jones. If you proclaim he did not, then why did he lie, obstruct justice, etc. He sexually harassed Paula Jones, but we are told we must get over it. How can we? He goes around today, treated by the media and too much of the population as some kind of font of wisdom, and is revered by the media and too much of the population. I do not understand the double standard - one set of rules everybody needs to live by (and should live by), and a different set of rules for one person, Bill Clinton.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Perjury is much worse than Sexual Harassment. It's even worse again if the one commenting Perjury is a Member of the Bar/Legal Profession as they should know much better and suffer greater penalties accordingly. Of course when you have Delusions of Grander you think you can get away with it and just about every Politician does. ;) Doesn't matter which side of the fence they sit on they all believe that they are above the LAW and act accordingly. Of course if they where barred from obtaining office if they had Criminal Convictions or they had to stand down while in Office if they where convicted of anything we might have better politicians maybe. ;) But then again there have to be some perks of the job as they don't get paid anywhere near as much as they would if they where in Private Enterprise where they would remain untouched for anything that they do. :0 Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

He was sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones. - The lawsuit was dismissed. - There was a settlement involving a large sum of money, no admission of guilt, and no apology. - The "reversal" you cite was not a reversal. The judge cited Clinton for contempt of court, fined him $1,202 and ordered to him pay $90,000 to Paula Jones' lawyers after they presented evidence of Clinton's misleading testimony. Clinton was also disbarred for five years. This was [u]not[/u] for sexual harassment, but for lying under oath. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_Jones His impeachment was not for sexual harassment, but for lying under oath. Again, this was 15 years ago. It's history. Get over it and move on.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'm trying to revise history? That's a bit of a stretch.