Friday, November 15, 2019

Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


The “Me Too” Movement began when a social activist and community organizer, Tarana Burke, began using the phrase "Me Too" in 2006. This phrase first appeared on her Myspace social network as part of a campaign to promote "empowerment through empathy" among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse. The "Me Too" Movement website was established to contribute to the efforts of spreading awareness, and helping victims and survivors of sexual violence. The intention behind this movement is to support survivors and end sexual violence. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the use of the hashtag, #MeToo, to draw attention to sexual assault and harassment. She acknowledged earlier use of the phrase by Burke. #MeToo spread virally as a hashtag across all social media platforms to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

The more attention that has been given to the “Me Too” Movement, the more individuals, especially women, have come forward to make allegations against their accusers. People are becoming less fearful and are willing to say something to make a difference in the world. In a society where the powerful are more likely to get away with inconceivable things because of their wealth and status, it has become important for individuals to fight for equality and against injustices.

If any employee complains about experiencing sexual harassment of any kind, the employer has a legal and ethical obligation to the employee to investigate the charges thoroughly and with sincerity. The employer is to take the employee at his or her word. It does not matter if an employer hears only rumors about sexual harassment in the workplace, the employer must investigate the potential harassment. Employees may approach their employers about something that has occurred, however, they typically want to keep their disclosures confidential. Confidentiality is tricky, and it is important for employers to be prepared to answer an employee’s request by responding that they will keep the conversation strictly confidential if they can. However, with matters such as sexual harassment, employers are required by law to pursue the issue whether an employee wants them to pursue the allegations or not. If one files a sexual harassment complaint against someone in the workplace, the HR department must act. Legally, if they ignore one’s claim, the company can be liable for their actions. HR must act, or it could be considered nonfeasance.

Different steps can be taken to reduce the risk of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. The first step would be to adopt a clear sexual harassment policy that outlines the definition of sexual harassment, emphasizes a zero-tolerance policy, and mentions disciplinary actions for wrongdoers. The policy would also establish a clear procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints, state that a thorough investigation of any complaint will be conducted, and that retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Another step would be to train employees. Training sessions could be conducted to teach employees about what sexual harassment is and explain that all employees have a right to a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. It would also be beneficial to review the complaint procedure and strongly encourage employees to use it. Each company has different harassment prevention programs, but one example would be to require employers to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all employees and once every two years thereafter. Employers might also want to consider not labeling training initiatives as sexual harassment prevention because people are tired of being told they must go for sexual harassment prevention training. It would be better to reframe it so that the central focus is on creating a respectful workplace. When completing training, it is imperative to refrain from using stereotypes. Stereotyping can generate negative attitudes towards employees, especially in a workplace that is supposed to treat all employees equally. It would also be important to train supervisors and managers. Just like providing training sessions for employees, training sessions could be conducted for supervisors and managers but separate from employee sessions. Managers and supervisors should be educated about sexual harassment and instructed on how to deal with these complaints, and since they have special responsibilities, it is important for them to be educated on these responsibilities in addition to the information provided to all employees.

Although training may not be enough to prevent sexual harassment, it is an essential component for establishing awareness and prevention procedures. It is important for companies to create a culture where everyone is treated equally, and all employees treat each other with respect. When dealing with sexual harassment complaints and allegations, it is pertinent not to act irrationally, such as retaliation. It is essential to ensure that all supervisors understand that any form of retaliation is unacceptable. It is an employer’s job to ensure a proper investigation can be conducted before firing an employee. It is essential to have concrete evidence that harassment has occurred because it is not proper protocol to fire someone just because someone makes a sexual harassment complaint. It is important to take every complaint seriously. During an investigation, an employer may take protective measures when dealing with sexual harassment. They may place the alleged wrongdoer on paid or unpaid leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. A company may also allow the complainant paid time off while the investigation is in process or altering their work assignments to prevent an alleged harasser to work directly with the complainant. The employer could also supervise the complainant to avert further harassment. After the investigation and if the allegations are proven true, then a company is responsible for the firing of the individual. It is essential for all employers and companies to monitor their workplace and take all complaints regarding sexual harassment very seriously.



Karina Kuchta is an intern with MediaEdge Communications. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with a B.A in English minoring in Communication Studies. She is currently pursuing admission for graduate school.

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