In a previous article, we quoted the following from OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration): American workers and employers want safe and healthful places in which to work.  They want everyone on the job to go home whole and healthy each day.   This applies to workers all over the world.  There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment – at work, or elsewhere.   An explanation of the company’s policy against sexual harassment should be posted for every employee’s information.

Federal U.S. law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace under Title VII of the1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended.  Title VII applies to private and most public employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and joint employer-union apprenticeship programs with 15 or more employees.  The law makes certain employers are responsible for preventing and stopping sexual harassment that occurs on the job.  Retaliation is also against the law.  If someone takes revenge against a person who complains about sexual harassment, i.e.,  as being made to take an unpaid leave of absence, or given a less desirable job in the same or different department – this is an example of retaliation. 

There are many kinds of conduct of a sexual nature that workers should let the harasser know are unwelcome.  Some examples of behavior that is unacceptable are:

  1. Verbal or written: personal behavior, comments about clothing or a person’s body; sexual jokes, sexual innuendoes, spreading rumors about a person’s private life; threatening a person, repeatedly calling them on the phone.
  2. Physical: Assault, blocking movement; inappropriate touching of a person; putting their arms around a person (uninvited.)
  3. Visual: Drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature.
  4. Nonverbal: Looking up and down a person’s body; derogatory gestures; following  (stalking) them. 

Although you may be embarrassed to report your concerns, companies cannot be legally responsible for taking care of the situation until they know about it.  It is important that you document and ask witnesses (if involved) to sign your documents.  Write down dates, places, times, and everything that has happened.  One incident may not constitute sexual harassment, unless it is rape or attempted rape.  Several incidents of unwelcome conduct may add up to harassment.   It is best if you report the harassment in writing.   Your employer must know in order to be responsible for a coworker, supervisor, client, or customer’s actions.  These reports should be kept in your personnel file, which you have a right to review at any time.  Also, keep copies of all paperwork at home or in another location, away from the workplace. 

It is a shame that there are “bullies” in most workplaces.  If you are approached in an unpleasant manner, tell the person “NO” and let them know you mean it; ask if this is the way they would behave in front of their spouse or family members; or how would they like to have their actions recorded on your cell phone, on a camera at work, or even reported in the news?  Hopefully, that would be enough to cause them to back off. 

There are acts of discrimination against persons because of their race, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sexual orientation.  Unwelcome conduct creates an abusive and hostile work environment, not only for the target of the abuse, but to employees as well.  We all have the right to expect to go to work each day and not have to worry about being made to feel uncomfortable or threatened.