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#MeToo: Raising Harassment Awareness In The Workplace

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Anna Ferguson Junior Staff Reporter (2018 – 2019)

A culture of respect. That’s the kind of culture employees in our workforce are seeking. As employers begin examining their policies in light of the #MeToo movement, it is vital employers create an environment where employees can come forward and report incidents without fear of retaliation.

According to Bettina Deynes, Chief Human Resources Officer at the Society for Human Resource Management, “Corporate response is changing, with more attention and responsibility focused on harassment issues and policies. The acceptance of primary responsibility for policy and enforcement by management is also increasing.” “Human resources,” she adds, “must ‘create and publish policies that are clear and effective and that have strict penalties for unacceptable behavior.’” It also must be simpler and less intimidating to report incidents of sexual harassment. “It’s a necessity,” she stresses, because “the risks of sexual harassment — lawsuits, internal conflicts, and employee terminations — are increasing.”¹ Today, with

women filling more professional roles and an increased focus on diversity in the workforce, companies need to ensure their employees feel secure and can work at ease. Management can no longer be allowed to turn a blind eye to harassment at the workplace. Such issues are widespread across different levels and industries, and, if not properly dealt with, can have an adverse effect on the reputation of a company.

In 1998, nearly a decade before the #MeToo movement, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex harassment by both sexes is actionable.² This ruling set the precedent for analyzing same-sex harassment and sexual harassment without the motivation of sexual desire.³ The Court held that discrimination based on sex is against the law, whether motivated by sexual desire or not, if the victim is placed in an objectively disadvantageous working condition.⁴ The gender of the victim or harasser is not an issue.⁵ Though many people think of sexual harassment as male-female harassment, sexual harassment can also be by the same-sex. The use of a hashtag and five letters created a movement and a platform where employees are vocalizing now, more than ever, that they expect a workplace and an employer that will not tolerate a culture of harassment. Understanding what constitutes harassment is an important step in stopping harassment. The FAQ’s below are common questions regarding harassment in the workplace.

Harassment in the Workplace: FAQ Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA). All content referenced below can be found on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.

What is harassment? Harassment is any unwelcomed conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment is behavior that creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment that interferes with an individual's job performance.

How do I know if harassment has gone too far?

  1. In order to remain employed, the individual must endure the offensive, unwelcomed conduct; or

  2. The unwelcomed conduct is so severe or pervasive, that it creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment that interferes with an individual's job performance.

What kind of conduct can be considered harassment? Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.

Who can be the harasser? Anyone. It could be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

Who can be a victim of harassment? Anyone who is affected by the offensive, unwelcomed conduct is a victim of harassment.

How can harassment be eliminated? Prevention, training, and creating awareness for all employees at all levels of the company are three ways to eliminate harassment. Employers are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. Employers should strive to create an environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns and are confident those concerns will be addressed.

What should I do if I am being harassed at work?

  1. Inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcomed and must stop.

  2. Contact your supervisor and Human Resources.

  3. Contact an employment attorney.

Source: U.S. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n, Harassment (2018).

Sources ¹ Russell A. Jackson, Into the Light, Internal Auditor, June 2018, at 20, 22. ² Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998). ³ Id. Id. Id.



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