Magazine article National Defense

For Those Confused about Sexual Harassment

Magazine article National Defense

For Those Confused about Sexual Harassment

Article excerpt

* A colleague recently relayed a conversation with a male business executive client who was seeking clarity on do's and don'ts to avoid crossing the line with regard to sexual harassment. Kudos for wanting to do the right thing, but this person said things such as, "If I'm on a business trip with a female employee, why can't I suggest we meet in my hotel room? It's quiet." And, "Why can't I tell my assistant her new dress looks great on her? She should be flattered." This man has received annual sexual harassment training at work for over 20 years, yet, by his own admission, he still doesn't get it.

For over 30 years, sexual harassment in the workplace has been prohibited and organizations have educated employees with policies and training. But recently, sexual harassment has been at the forefront of media reports due to a series of highprofile cases involving allegations against individuals such as Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and Kevin Spacey, as well as within organizations such as Uber and the National Park Service. Targets of harassment are speaking up publicly in greater numbers as they feel increasingly empowered.

Why is sexual harassment still happening? There is no simple answer. Nevertheless, a basic understanding of what sexual harassment is and how to prevent it is quite straightforward and can protect a business and its employees.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The implementing regulation defines it as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when that conduct falls under one of two types.

The first type is "quid pro quo," which means "something for something," or "a favor for a favor." It occurs between people with unequal organizational power. This is when the more powerful person (usually, but not always, a man) promises benefits - such as pay increases, promotions, protection from termination, etc. - to the less powerful person (usually, but not always, a woman) if the subordinate submits to the superior's sexual advances. Or the harasser might threaten to destroy the target's career for rebuffing the harasser's sexual advances.

The second type is "hostile environment." A hostile environment can be created by anyone - not only a boss, but also a peer, vendor, customer and so on. This is when conduct of a sexual nature is so severe and pervasive that it creates an intimidating, offensive, or demeaning work environment and negatively impacts another person's ability to perform their job. …

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