By Ed Greenberger, THELAW.TV
Sexual harassment has been a problem in America's workplaces for decades, but the accusations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain have put the issue back on the front page.
Most companies require their employees to attend sexual harassment training sessions, but the problem has not completely gone away. A recent study found that 31 percent of women claimed to have been sexually harassed at work and 43 percent of those women were harassed by their supervisor. But it's not just a problem for women. The poll found seven percent of men claimed to have been harassed.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some examples include:
• Displaying sexually suggestive photos
• Engaging in sexually related humor
• Repeatedly asking a co-worker for a date despite having been turned down
• Dispensing assignments based on sexual orientation
Generally speaking, if you feel uncomfortable at work because of any unwanted, unwelcome, or repeated sexually-related behavior, you are a victim of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, even though they've likely been trained to immediately report sexual harassment, most victims never take any action. If you feel you're a victim, you should consult your employee handbook or talk to your human resources manager to figure out how to report sexual harassment incidents. You might also consider consulting an attorney.
For business owners and managers, sexual harassment can be a problem in more ways than one. Not only can it create a hostile work environment, it can be costly. In 2002, a San Diego jury awarded $30 million to six female supermarket workers who accused their employer of sexual harassment. Even small business can lose tens of thousands of dollars in a sexual harassment case.
Sexual harassment cases often arise out of failed relationships between co-workers. For that reason, many companies and managers have forbidden co-workers from dating. Businesses should also have written policies that:
• Defines the different forms of sexual harassment
• Specifically prohibits sexual harassment
• Prohibits retaliation against an employee who files a complaint
• Outlines disciplinary action that can be taken for sexual harassment
• Explains the procedure for reporting incidents of sexual harassment, including alternate channels if the accused is the victim's immediate supervisor
Anti-discrimination legislation and an increased commitment on the part of America's employers have helped to reduce sexual harassment, but it remains a serious issue.
"If you're a business owner or manager, you would be wise to adopt zero-tolerance policies to ensure sexual harassment doesn't turn your workplace into an uncomfortable one," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV (http://thelaw.tv).