Review of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is defined as the threatening or offensive behavior of a person who regularly makes sexual comments or touches someone in a sexual way. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010) With this being said, it is critical to a company’s reputation and success that it is handled swiftly and without bias to either the person accused of the harassment or the victim. Sexual harassment can be classified into a couple of categories. One category is called quid pro quo, when translated into English from Latin, it means something for something. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010) If you will do something for me, I will do something rewarding for you. Usually this type of harassment comes from someone that has power over you, such as a manager or supervisor. It is illegal, whether the victim submits to it or resists it.
Another classification is hostile environment sexual harassment. This can happen when a person is subjected to offensive language, sexually suggestive pictures, explicit graffiti, or even unwanted gestures. The list can go on and on. Anyone can be responsible for this type of harassment, co-workers, supervisors, or even customers. A single incident is usually not considered harassment unless it was really appalling. Whichever way you choose to define it, sexual harassment will not and cannot be accepted in the workplace.
Frank is notorious around the office for flirting with his female coworkers. In Frank’s conversation with Mary in the break room, it is unmistakably clear that he sought after Mary to go out with him in order to approve her expense report. He also implies that she did something sexual to land the account, and now he wanted her to do the same favors for him. This case is a perfect example of quid pro quo. This situation is a clear violation of Mary’s civil rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states: “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” (United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, 2010)
There are a number of things that employers can do to limit or even negate their liability. They must first establish a strict policy on sexual harassment. They must make sure that they educate their employees about the types of harassment and how to go about reporting an incident. They must also make sure the policy is visible, and let all employees know that all claims will be taken seriously and investigated to the fullest extent. The employer also needs to make understood that any violation of this policy will have harsh consequences. Once an employee makes a claim, the employer must make sure they investigate the claim quickly, and make sure they talk to everyone involved in the incident. Depending on the outcome, immediate action should be taken, and the employees involved should be notified promptly.
Refusal of a company to establish and adhere to a sexual harassment policy could be detrimental. When a supervisor or manager abuses their authority, the company’s image is hurt. Their employee’s trust is lost. The company could lose customers and profits if a case is lost in court. In 2009, the EEOC received 12,696 reports of sexual harassment. Out of those, 11,948 were resolved either by settlements, successful/unsuccessful conciliation, withdrawals with benefits, administrative closures, or reasonable cause. Just the monies paid to employees totaled $51.5 million dollars. (EEOC, 2010) That does not include any court costs or attorney’s fees.
I think the best course of action for settling this case between Frank and Mary is to terminate Frank. Frank has abused his authority. He is a volatile liability, and his negative attributes outweigh his positive elements. Swift and harsh action is needed to keep the trust of the employees, to establish the discipline policy, and as well as to reiterate the zero tolerance standard on sexual harassment. Mary needs to be assured that she is safe from retaliation, and she did the right thing by bringing it to the attention of the Human Resources department. This course of action will also limit the liability of the company should Mary choose to further this investigation. The courts now have adopted a doctrine called respondeat superior. This is Latin for let the master answer. (The Free Online Dictionary, 2010) This means that an employer will be held liable for whatever actions their employees take, whether the employer knew about them or not.
Sexual harassment is a touchy subject. An employer has to be proactive and affirmative in order to maintain order and hopefully prevent this type of harassment from happening in the workplace. Employers should give additional training to their supervisors and managers to ensure that they achieve a comprehensive knowledge of sexual harassment, and what the ramifications are if they choose to ignore the policies set in place. If everyone works together, follows the written policies, and keeps a pleasant atmosphere in the office, maybe one day sexual harassment will be eradicated.