A study on the cases of sexual harassment in the workplace

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Introduction

Work or lack of work is an essential aspect of in people’s well-being and psychological satisfaction (Blustein, 2008). However, many challenges and conflicts occur in the workplace adversely affecting policy development and discharge of duty by employees. These problems are as a result of diversity and globalization of organizational workforce. Therefore, there is a need for continued advocacy for regulations to promote better working conditions. Sexual harassment in the workplace represents one of the many problems that employees face in their day-to-day activities. Although cases of sexual harassment have been a problem for a long time, the vice has not been widely researched. The problem has taken longer to reach public and scholarly awareness as an important topic due to the fact that most victims of sexual harassment were ashamed to come forward and discuss their plight (Fitzgerald, 1998).  This paper intends to put across a comprehensive study of sexual harassment cases in the workplace.

Background information on Sexual Harassment

To better understand the effect of sexual harassment at workplace, we need to understand what sexual harassment pertains. Although there are different definitions of sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that sexual harassment is “an unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical sexual harassment” (U.S.EEOC, 2013). There are only two major types of sexual harassments that are recognized by state and federal laws. Quid pro quo is the type of sexual harassment where the superiors use submission to sexual demand as a basis for employment decisions. The other kind of sexual harassment occurs when the work environment or materials are considered sexually intimidating or offensive. Although the difference between these two forms of sexual harassment is not clear, all laws on sexual harassment are geared towards protecting employees from pervasive sexual conducts in the workplace. Although legal definitions do not include sexual harassment experiences and understanding, there is a line of research that provides a historical aspect of sexual harassment in the workplace and a contextual understanding of sexual harassment.

Although the 1964 Civil Rights Acts provided clauses on protection against sex discrimination, the idea of considering sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination was advanced in the 1970s by feminist activists. These activists played an important role in bringing to public domain what was known but not talked about; sexual harassment in the workplace. Research has shown that although greater levels of workplace equality have been achieved, sexual harassment in the workplace remains common across all industries. For instance, it is estimated that 70% of women are victims of sexual harassment at the workplace while one in every seven men are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to Karim et al. (2016), sexual harassment refers to acts that violate an individual’s integrity and wellbeing. Sexual harassment in the workplace is in most cases accorded to women. Sexual harassment does not only constitute bad experience to the victim but also degrades their feelings and emotions. This greatly affects one’s productivity and negatively affect an organization. Although sexual harassment was more common in non-traditional or mixed employment, recent research indicates that sexual harassment has become prevalent in most organizations. For instance, the American Association of University Women conducted a study in 2006 that stated that 62% female and 61% male students had been subjected to sexual harassment within university premises (Hill, 2005).

In the current corporate environment, many challenges are being experienced by employees and the corporate managers. One of the main problems facing the corporate world is sexual harassment in the workplace. Although sexual harassment has negative effects on an individual, the effect may vary depending on the personality of the recipient, duration, and the severity of the harassment. In some cases, sexual harassment incidents are merely categorized as “annoying.” In other instances, sexual harassment lead to either temporary or prolonged psychological stress on the recipient. Effect of sexual harassment on an individual can be gravitated by lack of social support on the recipient by close friends and members of the family. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a terrible war that can only be won through the support of the industrial management. Therefore, it is the responsibility of various organizations to provide a working environment where employees feel free and confident to come forward and report cases of sexual harassment at work.

In a research conducted by Assocham Social Development Foundation (ASDF), more than 53% of women admitted having felt insecure at their place of work while taking night shifts in various industries. Additionally, it is estimated that 86% of those taking night shifts have trouble accessing transport means at night thus increasing the risk of sexual harassment such as teasing, rape, and even murder. This is due to lack of transport arrangement by their employers.

The Effect of Age and Power on Workplace Sexual Harassment

Although there is a few research work to determine how age affects workplace sexual harassment, there are many studies to show how race, gender, and sexuality, change the perception of workplace sexual harassment. For instance, a survey conducted by Quinn in 2002 indicated that men are more likely to make sexual advances when they are in the company of other men (Quinn, 2002). Research has also shown that workplace sexual interaction is viewed differently by people of different races. For instance, women of color, unlike their white counterpart, label their workplace sexual interaction as sexual harassment. On the other hand, age and gender seem to work together to affect the perception of sexual harassment in different industries. Research has shown that younger women experience more sexual harassment at work as compared to older women. Additionally, younger women who reported cases of sexual harassment at work are found to be more psychologically disturbed that men of the same age. Although men and women face sexual harassment at work, their perception of the experience is dictated by their prevailing cultural setup with men having a different perception of the women. Women who grew up in an environment where they are taught to respect their sexuality are likely to label sexual advances as harassment as compared to their socialized male counterparts.

The aspect of age in determining the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace is important as ones perception is likely to change over time. One’s perception of matters of sexual harassment in the workplace has been linked to factors such as experience, maturity, and cultural background. All these factors that affect the perception of sexual harassment cases are likely to change with the age of an individual. For instance, younger employees may lack the experience to recognize advances that are considered sexual harassment. Additionally, younger employees are likely to consider some sexual advances from coworkers as pleasurable due to their stage in life. Younger employees’ perception concerning sexual harassment is also likely to change as they advance in age due to growing awareness of sexual harassment cases at work (Blackstone, 2014).

The State of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Over the last few decades, cases of sexual harassment at work have become rampant making it a subject of discussion in public and private corporations. These cases have had an important implication on the society and organizations. This has led to carrying out of numerous studies on the phenomenon to determine its psychological effect on victims. Many of the research conducted on the subject have attempted to give an estimate of the extent of sexual harassment cases. Data on the number of sexual harassment cases at workplace can be important in determining its trend in various industries. Additionally, data on the number of sexual harassment cases at the workplace can be useful in determining effects of awareness programs already put in place. An increase in the number of cases of sexual harassment at work could be used as an incentive for lawmakers to legislate more laws to help eliminate sexual harassment at work.

Despite the importance of incidence data, the research conducted has so far yielded inconsistent results. Due to the varied results drawn from various studies, a number of conclusions have been made from the data obtained. Due to the importance attached to data on sexual harassment at workplace, it is recommended that researchers make use of good sampling methods and research on reliable measures. Inconsistence in the study results could show a negative implication of the policies that have been put in place to counter cases of sexual harassment at workplace. Additionally, high inconsistence in the results obtained could advance ideas of those who argue that empirical findings represent researcher bias or fault in the study design used. Although the identified variations could be due to rational factors in the study and methodological problems, it is important that researchers identify those factors in the study report. As a way of maintaining low prevalence of sexual harassment at workplace, organizational management needs to come up with ways to measure sexual harassment in their organization so as to be able to effectively deal with this vice. Despite steps taken to reduce cases of sexual harassment at work, many researchers have shown that sexual harassment victims in most cases fail to report unwanted sexual behaviors due to fear of stigma making it hard to collect correct data.

Legal Perspective of Sexual Harassment at Workplace

The increase in sexual harassment in the workplace could be mistaken for the nonexistence of legal laws to protect workers from sexual abuse. Nevertheless, this is not the case as the country is not short of international, federal, and state laws that outlaw sexual misconduct at the workplace. Besides, there are organizational regulations that guide employees conduct while at work. As stated earlier, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the first legal framework that protected people from any form of discrimination including sexual discrimination. Although this act was initially intended to protect women from sexual discrimination, later regulations were designed to protect both genders from sexual harassment. This Act is primarily supposed to apply to organizations that have more than 15 employees. Although the act did not directly address sexual harassment, it has acted as the basis for future regulations to protect employees from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a phenomenon that has been going on for a very long time although the term “sexual harassment” was first used in 1975 by Lin Farley.

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The first case of sexual harassment was the case of Barnes V. Train that took place in 1974. Since then, more regulations and laws against sexual harassment have been put in place with me cases determined in the court of law. For instance, in a case of 1986, sexual harassment was recognized by the Supreme Court as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. To combat cases of sexual harassment, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was advanced to include the right to sue for compensation for sexual misconducts that amounted to sexual harassment. In 1998, the Act was further advanced to include psychological injury due to sexual harassment as a component of consideration when calculating damage reward.

However, it is important to note that presence of good laws does not guarantee justice on sexual harassment victims. Therefore, the question in the mind of everyone is whether sexual harassment claims materialize in federal courts. Despite the widespread cases of sexual harassment and long-term existence of litigations, very little is known on the matter. In a research carried out by Ann Juliano in 2001, a comprehensive analysis was conducted to determine the activity of federal courts as far as sexual harassment cases were concerned (Juliano, 2001). Out of the 650 cases analyzed in the study only a small fraction of those cases involved sexual harassment litigation. Additionally, a smaller fraction of those cases comprised of sexual harassment cases at the workplace. With the increased awareness of workplace sexual harassment, the amount of litigation in federal courts have also raised.

Preventing Sexual Harassment at Workplace

The best way of managing sexual harassment at workplace is through developing mechanisms to prevent it from occurring. Although there are numerous laws aimed at deterring and prosecuting offenders, we need to come up with mechanisms of ensuring sexual harassment does not occur at all. Preventing sexual harassment at workplace is a joined effort by all stakeholders. To avoid any sexual harassment, an organization requires training, creating awareness, and an efficient mechanism for handling complaints once they come. These measures intend to create an environment where employees are empowered and are free to come forward and report in the form of sexual harassment. Conducting regular training to all employees on ways to prevent workplace sexual harassment is one of the ways recommended to ensure the vice is controlled in the workplace. For instance, the recommended training period by supervisors is two years. On the other hand, creating awareness using media channels such as posters and bronchus are the best ways to creating awareness on employees. The purpose of creating awareness is to familiarize the employees with acts that are considered sexual harassment and the channel of reporting harassment cases whenever they occur. Finally, all organizations should strive to have an efficient and secure way of launching sexual harassment instances. An organization should have a clear outline of how harassment allegations are investigated and corrective measures taken within the shortest time possible without stigmatization. Additionally, an organization should handle these investigations with a high level of confidentiality to ensure retaliation from the culprit is prevented.

Every employer is obliged by the law to ensure sexual harassment cases in their organization is unheard of. Despite the fact that all employees are educated on sexual harassment at workplace, the employer is liable for managers and supervisors. Additionally, the employer may be liable for sexual harassment committed on customers and patients by employees who are not in supervisory position. To enforce this requirement, employers with at least six employees are required by law to adopt a written policy beside sexual harassment. The written policy should declare employers commitment investigate and act on all sexual harassment complaints filed by employees.

Responding to Sexual Harassment

Timely response to sexual harassment by management is the only way of reiterating to protect employee well-being. Therefore, all cases of sexual harassment in the workplace must be dealt with appropriately regardless of who is involved. In cases where a sexual harassment incidents in a criminal offense, the management should report it to the police with all the relevant evidence for a proper investigation. Additionally, other agencies address sexual harassment concerns at the workplace that are not solved by the management.

Conclusion

Research has indicated that sexual harassment at workplace is a malignant problem that is affecting people from all walks of life. Additionally, cases of sexual harassment at work have been reported across all industries. This is an indication that a lot needs to be done to effectively deal with the vice. As outlined in the essay, there are various aspects of sexual harassment that need to be considered for us to have a work environment that is free from sexual harassment. For instance, organizations need to cultivate an organizational culture that promotes confidence and self-respect among the employees. Additionally, an organization needs to come up with training and awareness programs to ensure employees are aware of what sexual harassment at work pertains and ways of reporting and handling harassment cases. A combination of these factors together with legal support is a way of ensuring the number of sexual harassment cases at the workplace is brought to their minimum value.

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  1. Blackstone, A. H. (2014). “I Didn’t Recognize It as a Bad Experience until I was Much Older”: Age, Experience, and Workers’ Perceptions of Sexual. Harassment. Sociological Spectrum, 34(4), 314-337.
  2. Blustein, D. L. (2008). The role of work in psychological health and well-being: a conceptual, historical, and public policy perspective. American Psychologist, 63(4), 228.
  3. Fitzgerald, L. F. (1998). The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. Journal of vocational behavior, 32(2), 152-175.
  4. Hill, C. &. (2005). Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment on Campus. Washington, DC 20036: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1111 Sixteenth St. NW.
  5. Juliano, A. &. (2001). The sweep of sexual harassment cases. Cornell L. Rev., 86, 548.
  6. Karim, M. F. (2016). Understanding Of Sexual Harassment At The Workplace.
  7. Quinn, B. A. (2002). Sexual harassment and masculinity: The power and meaning of “girl watching.” Gender & Society, 16(3), 386-402.
  8. U.S.EEOC. (2013). ‘Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm
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