What does harassment mean to you?
When asked in our training sessions, this question elicits a wide range of responses, e.g., feeling bullied, disrespected, insulted, treated as an object, put down, etc. We’ll provide the legal definition shortly, but, in essence…
Harassment is aggression against another person’s body or mind.
Often, it’s an abuse of power, whether physical power or the power of position.
There is more to workplace harassment than many people think. And it’s not just harassment on the basis of sex. But here our focus is that best-know basis.
Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As defined in Section 1604.11:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when…
A key word here is unwelcome. Although there are exceptions (having to do with the broader context of the entire workplace), such conduct would not violate the law if it truly is welcomed and encouraged.
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the 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 working environment. This is hostile environment harassment — the broadest, most complex, confusing type. It includes the actions of non-managers. [And notice the word effect.]
The Shape of Sexual Harassment
Although sexual harassment can be female to male (or even same sex), our focus is predominantly male to female harassment. It is the most common by far. Just keep in mind that men are protected too!
According to an Illinois Task Force study, 90% of all women surveyed think sexual harassment is a problem and 70% had actually been harassed.
Of those who had been harassed, the forms of harassment were:
The Sexual Harassment Pyramid
. . . . . . Raped = 2%
. . . . Propositioned = 20%
. . . Unwanted Touches = 25%
. Suggestive Looks/Leers = 41%
Sexual Remarks or Teasing = 51%
Yes, rape can be considered a type of sexual harassment — the most extreme type of aggression against another person’s body or mind. But notice the most common types — the non-physical suggestive looks and remarks.
The Secret to Preventing Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment has been prohibited by law for well over 40 years (i.e., the Civil Rights Act of 1964). And it’s been in the public eye for over 15 years (since Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill).
Yet harassment continues to occur in America’s workplaces — resulting in big-money lawsuits and erosion of esprit de corps. A great many people are surprisingly unaware of what constitutes harassment or even that it’s illegal.
We believe that the Secret to preventing such harassment is…
Focus on the effect … not the intent!
We’ve found that most employees (and some employers) don’t get this. Deliberate or overt harassment is easy to deal with, and (as shown in the pyramid) the least common. What trips most employees up are the subtler or unintentional forms of harassment — the leering, teasing, joking, flirting, and cluelessness.
Make sure that you and your employees really grasp that: “But I didn’t mean anything by it!” is no defense.
[Our other articles on this subject examine other bases of harassment, its myriad manifestations, and how to avoid, respond and prevent.]