Controversy Around Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Abstract

The paper analyses the thorny issue of sexual harassment in the workplaces. The paper’s statement quotes the US sexual harassment law, which states that every organization is expected to have sexual harassment policies that govern their employees working environment. It then carries out a literature synopsis on the issue before thoroughly examining the topic. According to the examination, organizations that have ineffective sexual harassment policies have most of their sexual harassment incidents are unreported because employees fear that claims might be a source of intimidation or loss of livelihood as they are unsure of management’s reaction. The paper goes further by analyzing the US law on sexual harassment where it find that there are a number of legal options for a sexually harassed victim which include filing with EEOC, mediation, filing a common law tort or filing a claim under a state FEP (Fair Employment Practices) statute. However, not all claims are severe enough to be basis of a legal claim. It concludes by giving healthcare managers’ recommendations on dealing with sexual harassment in case of occurrence. Finally it enumerates the lessons learnt and their applicability to students’ present situation (working in a large US hospital system)

Introduction

Sexual harassment is coercion, intimidation and bullying of sexual nature or inappropriate and unwelcome promises of rewards in exchange of sexual favors. However, when it progresses from mild transgressions to annoying sexual assault or abuse, it becomes illegal and can be charged under the sexual offence act. Rebuffed sexual advances at any workplace can lead to sexual harassment which may constitute of intimidations or advances and hostility in a working environment that impose a sense of degradation, discourage or close employment opportunity for an individual. It deprives an individual a self-respecting employment. There have been several accounts of both men and women placing their livelihoods at risks for failure of giving into sexual favors at workplaces and incidences of colleagues harassing each and creating sexually hostile environments. A huge debate on who is to solely take blame on workplaces sexual harassment has recently enveloped in USA with many blaming organizations management for not taking the necessitated precautions (ERA , 2010)

In spite of the recent USA law amendments on sexual harassment in workplaces, sexual victims have continued to suffer as they are compensated insufficiently. This has caused uproars and heated discussions with a lot of people wondering whether the law is protection to the victim or a form of intimidation. However, with the insufficiency in law, the only probable solution that could save workers from sexual harassment is the non-tolerant sexual harassment working environment that every organization has the ability to create.

Statement Issue

According to the USA sexual harassment law, every organization is expected to have sexual harassment policies that govern their employees working environment. However, this is not the case with many organizations and this leaves us with a wandering statement as to why in spite of the legal implications organizations face when found liable, most organizations are neither employing the policies that are ready nor are they creating new policies to deal or completely eradicate sexual harassment in their organizations.

Literature synopsis

A number of studies researching the frequency and consequences of sexual harassment and hostile environment at workplaces have been conducted over the past decade. The main hindrance of these researches was impossibility to give a precise definition of the phenomenon.

American Authority of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2010) researched a case of a hospital at Brooklyn, New York, in which eight employees filled charges with the USA Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a commission involved in catering for sexually harassed victims in workplaces. During the case proceedings the accused of sexual harassment doctor defended himself by claiming that considers his actions friendly flirting. Courts often have difficulties with choosing the criteria for investigating similar cases. McShane (2007) noted that viewing pornographic materials, sexually explicit graffiti or sexual joking steers employees into sexual harassment and complicates the investigation process. United States Equal Opportunity Commission (2010) came to a conclusion that has to make verdict by determining how serious and frequent the offense was. Broadening the concept of sexual harassment at workplaces, Equal Rights Advocates (2010) admitted that the retaliation after proceedings should be considered by investigators as well. Brooklyn hospital was held responsible and paid a monetary damage (AAOS, 2010). It might b explained by the group character of the case. Morgan & Porter (1999) concluded that most group cases win as the added up evidence is substantial enough to make an organization pay for the allegations.

Another research strategy was aimed at developing effective sexual harassment policies. Beesly (2009) advised healthcare managers to raise the employees’ awareness of the available sexual harassment policies in the organization and procedures to follow while making a claim in the organization as well as to develop confidential psychiatry treatment to sexually harassed victims. Sexual Harassment Support (2009) placed the responsibility on health care managers noting that they should come up with a zero tolerance policy for any form of sexual harassment.

Issue Examination

In organizations that have ineffective sexual harassment policies, most sexual harassment incidents are unreported because employees fear that claims might be a source of intimidation or loss of livelihood as they are unsure of management’s reaction. There are cases when the employees have reported but the management has dismissed their claims mostly stating that they were merely suggestive flirtatious sexual acts like in the case of our case study hospital. In such cases, when one victim finds the courage to file charges, others team up and follow suit. Most group cases win as the added up evidence is substantial enough to make an organization pay for the allegations (Morgan & Porter, 1999).

Unfortunately, the personnel in management solely responsible for coming up with sexual harassment policies are the worst sexual offenders and employee bullies. They take advantage of their superiority powers such as firing, hiring, supervising and promoting employees by demanding sexual favors in order to promote, hire of stop firing an employee. When an employee declines, they sometimes get aggressive by forcefully hugging, touching their sexual parts or even raping them.

Besides, employees also play a great role in the management reluctance of developing or harnessing the sexual policies. Owing that a lot of employees share common interests and support each other in teamwork, slowly they develop intimate relationships. In such cases, there envelops intensity and closeness that sometimes when a sexual victim reports a sexual harassment incident, it is deemed impossible and the management easily dismisses it. At other times, employees cross the professional line and incidences of sexual escapades envelope. When this happens, it is difficult to tell whether the victim involved was sexually harassed or having a sexual relationship. With this, the management sometimes finds it unbelievable and equally dismisses the claims. There has also been incidents when both male and female colleagues have sexualized their working environment by viewing pornographic materials, sexually explicit graffiti or sexual joking thus steering themselves into sexual harassment and as a result making the management less concerned with sexual policies (McShane, 2007).

USA law on Sexual Harassment in work Places

In United States of America, there are a number of legal options for a sexually harassed victim which include filing with (Equal Employment Opportunity commission) EEOC, mediation, filing a common law tort or filing a claim under a state FEP (Fair Employment Practices) statute. However, not all claims are severe enough to be basis of a legal claim.

Under EEOC a commission that deals with workplace discrimination law enforcement, a sexually harassed victim can sue an offender under either “Quid pro sexual harassment” or hostile environment sexual harassment. Quid pro quo simply means that a person is asking for a sexual favor in exchange for a certain favor. This mostly occurs between the superiors and the minors. For example, a manager might promise an employee a pay rise if the employee accepts to date with him or her threatens to fire an employee if he or she doesn’t sleep with him or withholds an employee professional opportunity based on another employee’s physical or verbal conduct of any nature. Whether an employee gives in or not, it is equally unlawful. In hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome physical contact, offensive sexual materials or sexual-like comments as a regular work environment. With this, the court usually makes verdict by determining how serious and frequent the offense was (USEOC, 2010)

Besides, a sexual victim can file a claim if retaliation occurs after making a sexual harassment report. The retaliation may be in form of unfavorable job re-assignment, demotion, firing, poor valuation, suspension or any treatment that adversely affects an employee’s employment (equalrights.org, 2010)

However, the law has turned out to degrade the victim’s infliction by stating that for a victim to file a sexual hostile work environment case, the environment must be pervasive and sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment thus creating an abusive environment. This shows that the victim has to succumb to more sexual assaults even after realizing that he or she is sexually abused in order to have sufficient legal proof to file a claim. There have also arisen unfair laws to govern sexually harassed victims in workplace. For instance, some courts have adopted the “reasonable woman” test whereby sexual harassment would only be deemed to have occurred if “a reasonable woman” view complies. However, it is difficult to gauge people reasonability and such law is an intimidation to the victim. Also, the law does not cater for the health inflictions such as psychological trauma and panics imposed by the offender. It only concentrates in making a verdict based on the basis of the offender’s unwanted sexual acts and suggestive language used towards the victim. For the law to fully protect the sexual victim, it should make proper amendments to make sure that the victims are fully compensated for both psychological, physical and employment afflictions imposed by the offender. The law should also be fair enough to allow the victims file a claim as long as there is adequate proof as it is not reasonable for a victim to continue working in a sexualized environment until it is severe or abusive enough in order to file charges.

Healthcare managers’ recommendations on dealing with sexual harassment in case of occurrence

Sexual harassment not only affects the employees but also the organization by causing loss of staff and expertise through forceful resignation after employees decline to give in to sexual favors, team conflicts, employees absenteeism in order to avoid harassment, loss of respect among colleagues and increased health care cost due to harassment consequences. With all the negative consequences and the legal chains that can be imposed on an organization, the health care managers should come up with a zero tolerance policy for any form of sexual harassment that occurs (SHS, 2009).

In case of occurrence, a health care manager should first advise both parties to avoid sexually offensive behavior and secondly come up with written procedures to the harassment issue that will address the problem and give a solution. Thirdly, the manager should ensure that when handling the case, both parties’ rights are put into consideration and that the investigations are confidentially and promptly carried out. Finally, if the manager is unable to handle any case, he should consider using a professional mediator who will evaluate the complaints and give a viable solution.

However, prevention is always the best option and the manager should impose disciplinary measures such as huge fines, firing and a compulsory training on sexual harassment for anyone who harasses a colleague sexually. As a USA law requirement and a further prevention of employee’s sexual harassments, the health care managers should come up with sexual harassment policies as protective measures to govern employees working environment. They should also develop confidential psychiatry treatment to the sexually harassed victim (Beesly, 2009)

Sensitization of employees through a well structured interactive training process is the best measure. This is whereby employees are taught how respond appropriately, for instance, if the sexual harassment is physical the victim is expected to combine the verbal response with a physical one which might involve pulling away the offenders arm while saying ‘No’. The employees are also taught how to document evidence in both written and verbal communication that transpires between an employee and the offender. The manager should make sure that all employees have an understanding of what sexual harassment is, has knowledge on the available sexual harassment policies in the organization and procedures to follow while making a claim in the organization (Beesly, 2009)

Lessons learnt and their applicability to student’s present situation (working in a large US hospital system

Students know their legal rights as workers in the hospital and procedures to follow in case they succumb to victimization. They know that they should solely be advocates for a non-sexual harassment environment by declining any rewards or favors given to them in exchange of any sexual favors. Most importantly, the student will be at ease knowing that there are workplace sexual rights and laws bodies like EEOCE that protect them against workplace sexual harassment and fight for their rights respectively.

References

American Authority of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2010) Hospital in New York to Pay Over $5 Million to Settle Sexual Harassment by Doctor. Web.

Beesly, C. (2009). Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Forming a Basis for Prevention and Management. Web.

Department of Administrative Service. (2010). State of NH policy on Sexual Harassment. Web.

Equal Rights Advocates (2010).Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment At Work. Web.

McShane, S. (2007).Organizational Behavior: Essentials. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Morgan, F. & Porter, S. (1999).Sexual harassment of psychiatric trainees: experiences and attitudes. Postgraduate Medical Journal Vol.75 (885), 75-99.

Sexual Harassment Support (2009) Sexual Harassment in the workplace. Web.

United States Equal Opportunity Commission. (2010). Sexual Harassment. Web.