Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Sexual Harassment: New Game, New Rules

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Sexual Harassment: New Game, New Rules

Article excerpt

Recent changes in the role of women have altered the rules in workplace behavior. Better public awareness, the increased willingness of victims to speak out, and changing standards of behavior have all contributed to lower tolerance levels for sexual innuendo, no matter how innocent. Actions once considered marginally acceptable now produce anger and condemnation from the public and from employers.

In the last few years, many workers have faced a mixed-gender workplace for the first time. Whether it is adding a woman to the maintenance crew or to the board of directors, many workers may have little experience with such interaction. Yet, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the laws.

The results of sexual harassment can be devastating - low employee morale and productivity, resident and employee turnover, and, possibly, significant financial penalties for a business or property. Yet, many management companies still lag behind in developing a sexual harassment prevention program for their organizations.

Defining the Threat

An effective prevention program begins by understanding what constitutes harassment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines define sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that constitutes sexual harassment when:

* submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition for employment.

* submission to, or rejection of, such conducts is used as the basis of an employment decision.

* such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance, or creating a hostile or intimidating or offensive environment.

Two basic types of sexual harassment occur:

* overt demands for sexual favors in return for promises of better pay, job assignments, positive job reviews, or merely continued employment.

* hostile environment abuse in which an employee's behavior is offensive enough to another employee to produce an atmosphere of harassment. (Note that an environment of sexual harassment can be created even if no specific demands of a sexual nature have been presented.)

Sex for Rewards. The direct demand for sexual favors is usually fairly easy to identify. When Property manager Susan is offered a promotion, her boss Bill reminds her that she will have to accompany him on many "social" occasions. Since Susan has heard that Bill has affairs with several of his employees, she turns down the promotion and starts looking for a job elsewhere. She also gets a much lower than usual rating at her next review.

Harassment does not always have to be quite so overt, however. Vickie, who has always received high ratings and has seniority in her department, is passed over for a promotion in favor of dawn, who has only one year of work experience but is intimately involved with Sam, the director of human resources. Vickie, too, is a victim of sexual harassment, even though she was not asked directly for sexual favors.

Hostile Environment. Recognizing a hostile environment can be more difficult. What constitute sexually offensive behavior is not specifically spelled out in EEOC guidelines. To ensure compliance, the workplace must meet the sensibilities of each employee, and the employer must control (to the extent possible) the offensive actions of all people who enter the workplace.

Fred is the only man in the leasing office. His co-workers spend their lunch pouring over People magazine and commenting rather graphically on the attractiveness of various movie stars. Fred finds this offensive, even though the women do not make such comments to him. This situation creates a hostile atmosphere and is considered sexual harassment.

Although women are more likely than men to be victims of sexual harassment, sexual aggressors may be of either sex or of the same sex as the victim. …

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