Almost every workplace regardless of size, industry or geographic location has had to deal with issues involving harassment in one form of another.  Workplace harassment is normally associated with sexual harassment and although it is the most frequently reported form of harassment, others exist as well.

Harassment is actually a form of workplace discrimination, which by law and practice does not belong in the workplace. It is the responsibility of every business owner and manager to ensure that all employees are treated fairly in a workplace free of discrimination and harassment; because after all, at the heart of the issues of discrimination and harassment is a basic lack of respect for others. Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, discrimination related to the protected classes of race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, and veteran status is not permitted in the workplace.  Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination and therefore is also covered.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is made an implicit or explicit condition of employment, submission to or rejection of such conduct affects employment opportunities sometimes referred to as economic harassment, or the conduct interferes with an employee’s work or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Some examples of economic harassment are offers of raises, promotions, time-off, more attractive office or more pleasant job duties in exchange for sexual favors. Examples of environmental harassment include offensive pictures, E-mails, jokes, conservations of a sexual nature, staring, inappropriate touching etc.    Four elements must be present for behaviors to become unlawful.  The behaviors must be unwelcome, the conduct is directed at a protected class, it is offensive to the recipient and to a “reasonable person”, and the conduct is severe or pervasive.  It is important to note that actions become harassment from the perspective of the person feeling harassed, not by the person committing the perceived harassment. Harassment, even sexual harassment is no longer simply an issue of male supervisors harassing females. In today’s workplace there are problems with females harassing males, males harassing males, females harassing females, and vendors or customers harassing employees.

Business owners and managers need to pay attention to signs of harassment in their workplace such as excessive absenteeism, high turnover in certain departments, lower productivity or employee morale and employees requesting transfers into other work areas. Failure to adequately address employee complaints of harassment can create a poor public / corporate image making it difficult to attract and retain employees and open the door to potential financial impact from litigation. Employers should develop an employee policy covering all aspects of discrimination and harassment and then train all managers and employees on that policy.

Employees have a significant role and responsibility when it comes to the area of harassment in the workplace.  First and foremost, don’t participate either directly or indirectly in activities that might be considered by someone else as harassment or discriminatory. If you are feeling harassed, tell the person to stop.  If the behaviors persist, inform your supervisor or another member of management or human resources.

Harassment or discrimination of any type does not belong in the workplace.  It is not only bad manners, it’s bad business.


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