Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Are Human Resource Professionals Victims?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This research utilizes Fitzgerald's, et al. 1995 Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ, Form W) to determine the extent to which human resource professionals have received unwanted sexual behavior in the five years from 2001-2006. Results show that 89 percent of human resource professionals self-reported to have received gender harassment, 47 percent self-reported to have received unwanted sexual attention, and 6 percent self-reported to have received sexual coercion. However, only 29 percent of human resource professionals also claimed to have been "sexually harassed." Implications include the need for human resource professionals' continuing education and continuous training of supervisors and managers in regard to sexual harassment. Employers should consider an alternate reporting structure and should provide an alternate person, such as legal counsel, to whom the human resource professional (or others if needed) may report sexual harassment.

Keywords: Ssexual harassment, human resource professionals, Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, sexual harassment training, reporting sexual harassment, Quid pro quo, hostile environment, sexual harassment lawsuits, reasonable person vs. reasonable victim

INTRODUCTION

The right to pursue a career and economic gain in the absence of sexual harassment is a basic legal tenet in the United States. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964 guarantees Americans that race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or veteran status will not be a factor of employment (http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/vii.html). The 1991 update to the CRA provides the original version with the necessary power to stop illegal and discriminatory employment practices regarding race, sex, color, etc. It allows plaintiffs to seek jury trials, and successful plaintiffs can recover compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees stemming from intentional employment discrimination (http://www.eeoc.gov/35th/ thelaw/index.html ¶ 28).

The Society for Human Resource Managers reported in 2002 that 97 percent of employers have written sexual harassment policies and that 62 percent of those employers provide training on sexual harassment (Blackman, 2005). Although employers are taking a stand on the issue of sexual harassment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that it continued to receive an average of 15,000 sexual harassment complaints per year (Simon, Scherer, Rau, 1999). In 2008 alone, the EEOC received 13, 867 charges of sexual harassment (http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/harass.html) and _____ since the CRA was updated in 1992.

Sexual harassment hinges upon whether or not the sexual behavior was welcomed by the recipient. Sexual harassment is determined by the victim and is subjective because what one person finds as sexually harassing behavior may be acceptable to another person. People identify and perceive sexual harassment differently. Many authors have attempted to research predictors of perceiving sexual advances as sexually harassing or harmless (Fitzgerald, et al. 1988; Gutek, et al., 2004). Although a definitive answer has not been established, previous research can reasonably be grouped by influences which may lead to a person's perception of sexual harassment.

PURPOSE OF STUDY

The purpose of this research is to measure the extent to which human resource professionals receive sexual behavior in the workplace and the likelihood of human resource professionals to label the sexual behaviors they experienced as harassment.

There is ample research-based literature regarding gender, culture, race, and age as factors determining perception of sexual harassment (Wuencsh, Campbell, Kesler, & Moore, 2002, Desouza, Pryor, & Hutz, 1998, Foulis & McCabe, 1997); as well as workplace environment issues such as employers with high levels of turnover, an absence of policies, and other quantifiable workplace statistics (Gordon & Lowe, 2002, Trevor, 1998, Laband & Lentz, 1998). …