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Sexual Harassment on the Job


Sexual harassment is illegal and unprofessional, yet thousands of workers each year experience sexual harassment on the job. In many instances, it is a supervisor or manager who engages in sexual harassment. While the majority of harassment victims are women, men can also experience sexual harassment. A victim of harassment can be of the same or the opposite sex as the harasser.

Workers who are victims of sexual harassment are often afraid to speak up and feel powerless to do anything about their situation. When victims do seek help, they may come to the union steward. The steward is often the person closest to the problem and knows all of the parties involved. This brochure is intendd to help you, the union steward, be prepared to deal with sexual harassment issues in the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome

  • sexual advances;

  • requests for sexual favors; or

  • any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when

    • submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment; or

    • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or

    • such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

What Conduct is Considered Sexual Harassment?

Unwelcome and unwanted behavior may include:

  • touching, pinching, rubbing, bumping or patting;

  • sexist remarks about a person's body, clothing or appearance;

  • propositions or explicit demands for sexual activity not mutually agreeable to both parties;

  • leering at a person's body;

  • verbal harassment or abuse;

  • using crude and offensive language or sexual inuendos;

  • granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity;

  • displaying sexually offensive or pornographic materials;

  • using offensive or sexually suggestive gestures;

  • discussing sexual activities;

  • using demeaning or inappropriate terms (e.g., "honey"; "cutie"; "bitch").

The Law Prohibits:

Quid Pro Quo Conduct: This term literally means "this for that" and covers situations where submission to unwelcome sexual activity is made a condition of employment or the basis for decisions affecting the worker's job or working conditions. The harasser will be someone in a position of authority who appears to be able to carry out the threatened consequences.

Hostile Work Environment: A hostile environment occurs when a supervisor or co-worker harasses a worker solely because of gender. Usually, a hostile, intimidating or offensive working environment will be caused by persistent and repeated incidents of harassment. However, a single incident might create a hostile environment if the conduct involved is serious enough.

Sexual Favoritism: Harassment can occur when a supervisor plays favorites and rewards those who respond to sexual advances, whice denying job benefits or favorable working conditions to others who are equally qualified but who are not engaging in sexual activity with the supervisor.

Gender-Based Harassment: Derogatory comments or offensive behavior based solely on gender may also be unlawful even if it is not overtly sexual in nature. For example, making derogatory comments to or playing pranks on a woman because she is a woman.

Indirect Harassment/Retaliation: Witnesses to sexual harassment at work can be victims of a hostile work environment even if they are not the target of the harassing conduct. An employee who complains about harassment is also protected from adverse job action based on the complaint.

Who Is Responsible?

The employer is responsible for the acts of its agents and supervisors, as well as for the acts of co-workers and non-employees (such as vendors, customers or contractors) in circumstances where management knows, or reasonably should know, about the harassment and fails to take immediate and effective corrective action/

Why Does Harassment Occur?

The most common motivation for sexual harassment is power, not sexual desire. Sexual harassment is caused by a desire to control another person or group of people by humiliating and demeaning them. As a result, most harassment victims are those who have the most to fear from losing their job or job benefits. Many working women are still clustered in jobs at the lower end of the pay scale where they are less likely to feel comfortable about "making waves". These women are often the most likely targets of harassment.

Most sexual harassment goes unreported because victims are made to feel ashamed about what has happened to them. They are afraid that others will say that they "asked for it" or that they will not be believed if they report the conduct. Even where the employer has a policy prohibiting sexual harassment, they may be afraid of being branded as "troublemakers" or that they will face retaliation. Rather than be embarrassed or lose their jobs, victims may either quit or take sick leave or try to move to a different job. This leaves the harasser free to victimize other workers.

The Steward's Role:
How to Handle a Sexual Harassment Complaing

If a member comes to you for help:

1. Get the Facts. Find out the specific behavior of the harasser toward the member. Get the times and places the harassment occurred, how long the problem has been going on and names of witnesses, if any. Find out if the victim told the harasser that the behavior was unwelcome or complained to management. This is important because failure to complain about the sexual harassment could be used as evidence that the sexually directed behavior was not unwelcome. Find out if the victim has complained to the supervisor or another representative of management, or if she/he has filed a complaint as set forth in company policy.

2. Be Careful and Considerate in Asking Questions. Always keep in mind that it was probably difficult for the victim to come to you with the problem and that your response will have a big effect on how comfortable she/he feels about getting it resolved. Don't make any comments that might suggest you do not believe what is being said or that the problem might be the victim's fault. (For example, don't ask "Are you sure that really happened?" "Are you sure you aren't just over-reacting?") Instead, emphasize that you are glad the employee came to you and that you want to help get the problem resolved, but need to ask some questions to be sure you have all the facts.

3. Reassure the Victim that what has happened is not their fault and they should not blame themselves. Explain that you will treat your conversation as confidentially as possible, but that you will have to talk to the accused harasser and/or the company about the situation in order to get the problem resolved in an effective way.

4. Advise the worker to start keeping a diary or log of each occurence. Include direct quotes, date, time, witnesses, descriptions of sexual pictures, etc. Make sure the worker keeps the diary in a safe place.

5. Conduct a Preliminary Investigation. It will be important to try to gather sufficient facts to warrant presenting the complaint to management and/or filing a grievance on behalf of the employee.

6. Filing a Complaint and/or a Grievance. The employer is responsible for providing a safe, harassment-free workplace. It is also required by law to have an effective, well-publicized anti-harassment policy that includes a process for filing complaints, as well as effective remedies, and guarantees against retaliation. If an employee fails to follow the complaint process, the employer can argue that it should not be liable for the harassment if a lawsuit is later filed by the employee.

If, after you have gathered the necessary facts, it appears that the problem cannot be resolved informally with the parties involved, the employee should be encouraged to file a complaint with the employer under its anti-harassment complaint process. It may also be appropriate to file a grievance as well, citing the contract clause covering non-discrimination.

When the alleged harasser is a co-worker, you should seek guidance from the appropriate local officer. In certain cases, you may be able to resolve the problem informally if the victim is interested in such a solution (e.g., an apology by the co-worker for a minor misunderstanding).

7. Keep the Local Informed. Chances are they have dealt with this kind of problem before and can advise you and help resolve the problem.

Sexual Harassment Is Against The Law

Sexual Harassment is Against the Law. Harassment on the basis of sex violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as state and local anti-discrimination laws.


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