Harassment has been prohibited by law for well over 40 years (ie, the Civil Rights Act of 1964). And it's been in the public eye for over 15 years (since Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill).
Yet harassment continues to occur in America's workplaces – resulting in big-money lawsuits and erosion of esprit de corps. A great many people are unexpectedly unaware of what constitutes harassment or even that it's illegal. What about you?
Before looking at the answers below, which of the following statements do you think are true or false?
- Harassment means demanding sexual favors from a woman.
- Only physical acts by one employee against another institute sexual harassment.
- When making a pass at a girl, No means Maybe … and Maybe means Yes.
- Sexual, racial or ethnic bantering at work is OK as long as the other person does not mind.
- A court can require a harasser to pay damages to a harassed employee.
- Sexual visuals or objects in a workplace are OK unless someone complains.
- Employee harassment is not illegal unless it's intended as harassment.
- Giving a job promotion to a woman who has willingly participated with you in an office romance is sexual harassment.
- False – Harassment means much more than demanding sexual favors from a woman:
- Not only quid pro quo , but also intimidating, hostile, or offensive behavior.
- Not only sexual, but also racial, ethnic, age, disability, or any other way of belittling others.
- And it also includes demanding sexual favors from a man.
- False – Sexual harassment also includes non-physical acts (eg, verbal comments and leering) and actions by (or towards) groups.
- False – In the workplace, No means NO forever. And there's something else wrong with this statement. Technically, a girl is a female under the age of 18. Informally, of course, girl often is used to refer to an adult female (eg, girlfriend or girls' night out). But it has a belittling effect when used by men to refer to female coworkers. [It's analogous to using boy to refer to an African American man.]
- False – The other person may indeed mind that bantering, but is afraid to say anything. And others (who do mind) may overhear, or hear about it later.
- True – A court can require the individual (not just the employer) to pay damages to the harassed employee. And some of the rewards have been in the $ 100,000's!
- False – The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and the courts have determined that sexual visuals or objects in a workplace are not OK, even if no one has expected. Examples include:
- Portrayals of nudity, semi-nudity or sexual acts
- Sexual devises, cartoons, jokes
- Sexual computer images, emails or voicemail messages; "adult" websites
- False – It is the effect, not the intent. This opens a potential can of worms. But a standard is used: the reasonable person (or, for sexual harassment, reasonable woman). For example, let's say a male employee has a photo of his girlfriend on his desk and a female coworker objects:
- If his girlfriend is scantily clad in the photo, a reasonable woman might very well be offended.
- On the other hand, if she is fully clothed – but the coworker alleges that the man has lustful feelings as he looks at the photo – this would not meet the reasonable woman standard.
- True – Promoting a woman, who has willingly participated in an office romance with the man who promotes her, is sexual harassment, for at least two reasons:
- Was she really willing or afraid for her career?
- What about other qualified employees – female and male?
As you can see, there is more to workplace harassment than many people think.