Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Identifying Sexual Harassment
In today's society, there is a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace. While someone may just have poor taste, it is often difficult in deciding whether an action should be considered harassment. However, according to the Human Rights Commission harassment "involves a co-worker or supervisor using authority or physical power in a way which causes another person to be humiliated, embarrassed, or distressed. Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive verbal or physical conduct... towards another". Sexual harassment is a very serious issue.
The EEOC handles charges and monitors businesses in the U.S. for indications of sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the EEOC sexual harassment can occur in a variety of forms such as
EEOC, "Facts about Sexual Harassment", [http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html], December 1997.
Today, sexual harassment is not uncommon in the workplace. Every day, there are numerous news articles on harassment charges against supervisors and co-workers. It is an issue that should not be taken lightly. Three separate allegations are mentioned below.
Recently, a woman in Indiana filed charges against the local diocese for ignoring years of complaints of sexual harassment about a local priest. Debra Kukla is one of three woman who claimed to have suffered from years of abuse from the priest. According to the Indianapolis Star she charged that the priest had repeatedly touched her breasts. The priest had recently finished counseling for alcohol related problems. Debra Kukla law suit is pending in an U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.
Yahoo News, "Indiana diocese faces sex harass suit", [http://biz.yahoo.com/upi/97/12/06/general_state_and_regional_news/inharass_1.html], December 1997.
One of the most well known sexual harassment charges was made on Oct 11th, 1991. Anita Hill, a former assistant to Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education and the EEOC charged that while she worked for Thomas in 1982 & 1983 he had engaged in sexually explicit behavior and pressured her into going out on dates with him. She testified to Congress for several days on these encounters with Clarence Thomas. While Clarence Thomas was never convicted of anything, this major event has renewed the close attention paid to sexual harassment allegations in the United States.
Another well known sexual harassment charge was filed by the EEOC in early 1997 against the Mitsubishi Corporation alleging pervasive sexual harassment at their plant. The EEOC alleged that some 300 to 500 women have been verbally harassed and physically assaulted by co-workers and supervisors. In addition 29 women filed sexual harassment complaints pending against Mitsubishi in a private, civil law suit. These charges brought a great deal of bad publicity to Mitsubishi and they were forced to agree to costly programs that would teach their employees about sexual harassment.
Dealing with Sexual Harassment
It is obvious that the best way to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace is to prevent from happening in the first place. If you are an employer, you have a legal responsibility to make sure you provide a safe work environment. There are plenty of seminars and workshops for employers and employees offered by various companies and organizations on how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Here are a few web sites that offer seminars or teaching materials on sexual harassment:
Providing a safe work environment not only helps protect employers from lawsuits, they also creative a more productive work environment. It also helps minimize bad publicity on your organization by helping to prevent sexual harassment allegations against the company.
Produced as part of a class assignment in CS 3604, Department of Computer Science, Group 5: Ryan Wetherill, Brian Jaeger, Scott Mayberry, Steve Thompson, Fall 1997. Edited and modified by J.A.N. Lee, April 1998.