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Facts About Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is the unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual  nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment is not simply basing employment on an individual's acceptance or rejection of sexual advances. Another form of sexual harassment is the creation of an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. In the U.S., an employer can be charged with sexual harassment as a result of the actions of employees, vendors and even customers.

Sexual harassment has become a major concern to employers world-wide as they have become aware of its financial, environmental and morale costs in the workplace.

Because sexual harassment involves actions and behavior it is often defined culturally i.e. what is considered sexual harassment and what is condoned vary from country to country. In the U.S., and in most of the developed nations, sexual harassment complaints are on the rise and they are being taken seriously. This is not true for all  countries. In Moscow, for example, many employers require secretaries to be attractive, under 25 and to sleep with their bosses. Indeed, in Russia, 71% of the unemployed are women. If a women wants a job, she must be young and pretty and she is expected to use her allure to win contract for her boss.

When working in foreign countries, American women often face sexual harassment by being subjected to innuendo and sexual remarks from foreigners. Foreign men are also more likely to comment about the physical attributes of women. Such behavior is not tolerated in the U.S. but it might be in foreign cultures.

Reasons for Sexual Harassment:

          Obtain sexual favors
          Obtain power
          Decrease the power of the victim (embarrass or intimidate the victim)
          Personal crisis in the life of the harasser (aging, divorce, monetary problems)
          Sexual attraction gone wrong
          Misunderstanding of roles

Types of Power that can affect sexual harassment are:
          Achieved power - power someone earns
          Ascribed power - that which is given to someone and cannot be taken away
          Situational power- that which depends on the situation in which one is

The most common and easiest to identify is achieved power abuses. In this situation, it is the supervisor who might use their power to sexually harass someone. Women rarely use achieved power to sexually harass male employees. While men use achieved power to receive sex, women can use sex to obtain achieved power. Both behaviors are inappropriate.

Ascribed power is an attributed characteristic to which someone has no control such as gender and ethnicity. Almost all research shows that men are given more power than women simply because of their gender. This natural type of power allows subordinate men to harass female bosses. Likewise, white people are given more power than minorities. In these situations, the harassed individual's complaint is usually viewed with skepticism because the victim had the formal power to stop the harassment. Moreover, victims tend not to report the harassment because their accusation will be challenged or the victim fears that the harasser will be unduly disciplined.

Situational power occurs in one situation but not another. Numbers and territory are primary sources of situational power in the workplace. Abuse of this power is      usually motivated by the person wanting to retain a homogenous work setting--wanting the 'outsider to leave'. It takes the form of focusing on the person's gender to define him/her as different, not competent or not to be taken seriously. It is not unusual to find a number of employees joining in to harass the outsider. It is most frequently found in nontraditional setting: construction, fire fighting, police work, upper management, nursing, teaching, clerical work, etc. This type of harassment is considered hostile environment.
What do the U.S. Courts say?

First, if a supervisor's harassment results in the victim suffering a tangible adverse employment action such as discharge, demotion, or undesirable reassignment, the
employer is liable for damages to the victim.

Second, even if the victim has not suffered a job loss, the employer is still generally liable for the harassment because the company and the supervisor are in a position of power.

Third, the company may head off liability or significant damages by proving its innocence. The employer must show that it took "reasonable care to prevent harassing behavior"; responded promptly to any hints of sexual harassment trouble; and it has in place an effective complaint procedure published to all employees, and that the victim reasonably failed to complain about the harassment or follow the company's complaint procedure.


  •      Have a policy prohibiting sexual harassment
  •      Publicize the policy to all employees
  •      Conspicuously post the policy
  •      Provide the policy to all employees
  •      Encourage employees to report perceived harassment affecting themselves                           and their co-workers
  •      Respond promptly to all complaints of alleged harassment
  •      Take prompt corrective action when needed.
  •      If a person is sexually harassed by someone outside the firm by an associate of the firm e.g. a firm's customer. A business must also take appropriate, corrective action. This might involve calling the other company and reporting the harassment; denying access to the company by the offender outsiders or supervising meetings between the harasser and employee.