When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace it is emotionally traumatizing to the victim. In addition to this, news of the harassment creates a negative workplace environment, can lead to health problems for the victim and can compromise workplace safety. Financial losses can also directly and indirectly impact companies resulting from absenteeism, decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, low morale and high employee turnover. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the employer and their employee can both be held liable for the sexual harassment
Understanding sexual harassment is the first step in preventing it. Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem and reports reveal that it is on the rise. In fact, one in four women will reportedly experience sexual harassment on the job. One in eight men file a sexual harassment claim.
The definition of sexual harassment is evolving and now broadly includes any form of sexual conduct that interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur by men towards women, women towards men or among members of the same gender. The harasser does not need to be the victim’s superior. It can occur between co-workers or even those who do not work for the same company. The abuse can be physical, verbal or even more conspicuous such as exposing others to offensive photographs. Even sexual banter, pranks or remarks can be construed as sexual harassment if someone finds them offensive.
Because sexual harassment has become so widespread the OSHA has taken notice and classified it as a form of workplace violence because of the health and safety effects involved. These can include a variety of physiological ailments for the victim ranging from headaches and stomach problems to increased risk of heart attack. Victims also often find it difficult to focus on performing their tasks safely and correctly due to increased stress. Also, when involved in a pattern of intimidation, victims often receive inadequate training and may even be reluctant to raise valid safety issues for fear of further ridicule.
The best way to eliminate workplace sexual harassment is to create a workplace environment that discourages it. Employers should make it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. To further discourage sexual harassment and to stop it quickly if it does occur, companies should establish a complaint process and always respond promptly and appropriately to such grievances.