Sexual Harassment in the workplace has become a hot-button topic over the last few months. Many people are unclear on what it is and how easy it is to sexually harass another co-worker. It’s also a topic I typically must educate people on daily so that they are aware of how easily the line can be crossed. While the topic may be uncomfortable for some, it is important to know what it is, and what you must do to report it or to prevent yourself from being an unwitting harasser – regardless of whether your company has 25,000 employees - or 25 – or 5.
Recently, I encountered an employee, named “Eddie” who was extremely upset and felt that his manager had it out for him. He explained that the problems with his manager started five years ago when he asked for some “young girl’s” number because he wanted to sleep with her. The female he was referring to was, at the time, his co-worker. He asked for her phone number on two occasions and she refused. She reported the incident to Eddie’s manager and he was disciplined. The employee felt that it was unfair punishment. Eddie admitted it wasn’t the first or last time he asked for someone’s number at the organization. He said it was “normal,” the ladies were flattered, and nothing was wrong with it. Usually I have a pretty good poker face, but I must admit, my eyes were bugging out of my head listening to this employee. I calmly explained to Eddie that he could have been fired for what he did and that it also constituted sexual harassment. Eddie was quite shocked and taken aback. I explained to him that everything you might do outside of the office isn’t permitted inside of it, and that the first “no” he heard should’ve been the last.
The United States' Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (EEOC). Sexual Harassment in the workplace violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It can be verbal or physical. The harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature. It is illegal to harass a man in the workplace by making offensive comments about men in general. The law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
The first thing that most people must understand is that we come to work to work. While it is important to have some socialization, we are all hired to do a job. No one should be subjected to sexual harassment or harassment in general. If you feel that you have been subjected to sexual harassment, immediately report it to your supervisor, department head or human resources department.
William J. White
NAAAHR New Jersey Legal Advisor