Sexual harassment in the workplace violates everyone’s basic right to work without fear.
27% of women and 10% of men in the U.S. say they have experienced inappropriate workplace behavior.
For LGBTQ adults, the rate is higher. 51% report being sexually harassed based on their sexuality or gender.
Do you think you or a co-worker are being sexually harassed but are not sure what action to take? Read further for more info about how to identify it and stand up for your rights.
What Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Inappropriate workplace behavior is illegal but how do you recognize it? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that sexual harassment must be severe enough to make a hostile workplace. It must also have a negative effect on morale and the employee’s emotional well-being.
Most people think of sexual harassment as a woman being sexually degraded by a male co-worker or boss. But both men and women experience harassment on the job, and both cause it. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that sexual harassment is:
- An unwelcome sexual advance
- A request for sexual favors
- Verbal sexual comments
- Physical sexual demands
Hostile pranks or jokes, sexual slurs, and demeaning or degrading acts are all examples of inappropriate workplace behavior. No one should have to endure this type of behavior in their workplace.
When Is It Not Sexual Harassment?
Simple sexual teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidences aren’t legally considered harassment. But it is harassment when it causes a person to lose his/her job or to get demoted.
You can apply the ‘reasonable person standard‘ to decide if an act is a sexual harassment.This is when a reasonable person is in the same situation and finds the act abusive or intimidating. For example, an employee gets unwelcome advances by their boss to perform sexual acts. If another person in the same situation (gender, race, age) would feel intimidated, it’s probably harassment.
A boss telling an employee to wear more professional clothing is not harassment. Making compliments about a nice shirt or coat isn’t harassment if there are no sexual references.
Women and Sexual Harassment
A sexually hostile work environment is damaging to women who experience it daily. Recent studies show a higher risk of PTSD in workers who get harassed on the job. It can also lead to depression and anxiety.
An intimidating work environment leads to self-doubt and self-blame in many women. They feel responsible and think that they brought the unwelcomed attention onto themselves. These feelings promote depression and anxiety and lead to fear of going to work.
Effects of Sexual Harassment on Men
The statistics of male sexual harassment on the job may be much higher due to men’s reluctance to report it. The traditional view of workplace sexual harassment is an act by men on women. But more and more men have filed legal complaints of workplace harassment.
Perpetrators of male harassment include both men and women. Many men don’t know what makes up sexual harassment, and therefore, don’t report it.
They fear embarrassment or taunting if co-workers find out. Men who experience harassment from women may believe that a woman can’t sexually harass a man. Or, that abuse by a man indicates their sexuality.
LGBTQ and Gender/Sexuality Identity
LGBTQ adults continue to experience inappropriate workplace behavior at higher rates than heterosexual adults. Transgender people face even more abuse and discrimination in the workplace. 90% have encountered sexual misconduct or harassment at their job.
LGBTQ adults still face the threat of losing their jobs or not getting a promotion based on being gay or transgender. The threat of physical and verbal harassment in the workplace is an all-too-real concern. LGBTQ individuals deal more with unemployment and homelessness due to job instability.
Legislation protecting LGBTQ workers exists in the form of the Equality Act of 2015. It gives them the same rights and protections as any other protected minority group.
Helping a Co-Worker
There are many ways you can help a co-worker who is experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Confront the individual(s) if you don’t fear retaliation or harm. You need to be specific about the behavior. Let them know the exact issues co-workers feel uncomfortable with and that it has to stop now.
Put yourself between the abuser and the target. Insert yourself into abusive conversations or sit next to the harasser in a meeting. Don’t allow your co-worker to be alone with the individual.
Go to a trusted supervisor or manager when other tactics don’t work. This puts the company on notice and requires them to take action. Make sure to take copious notes so that your memories remain vivid. This will help if you testify on behalf of your co-worker.
Progress Over the Last 20 Years
Sexual harassment complaints have decreased by 28% since 1998. But it is still a burden affecting companies across the U.S.
Sexual harassment is no longer seen as something that happens to women. There is increasing awareness of how it affects men and that women can be the harasser. Many employers have created policies about LGBTQ rights in their companies.
The number of cases found in favor of the accuser by the EEOC has increased. But most complaints don’t make it that far. Many people change jobs to get away from the harassment. And most workers don’t report it to anyone for fear of retaliation.
The increasing number of young, educated females haven’t reduced the amount of sexual harassment or changed the norms. This may be because their co-workers feel threatened by the increase in the number of females in their company.
Progress has occurred, but the demographics of the workplace are now more complex. Millenials have different views of workplace behavior than the previous baby boomer generation. Their work ethics and social responsibility are more diverse and distinct.
Researchers need to study the changing workplace environment and what defines and makes up sexual harassment. Improvements in legal protection for all affected groups need to happen also.
Where Do We Go From Here?
No individual should have to put up with sexual harassment in the workplace. It is every worker’s right to work without fear and under safe conditions.
Men need to feel that their complaints are legitimate. And the safety of LGBTQ workers must be the gold standard.
Permanent changes in the views of sexual harassment need to change among employers and employees. Individual cases are important, but changes in laws affecting minority groups are crucial.
Sexual harassment has no place in the workplace. These changes begin with you through the advocacy and support of victims.
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