In our last blog we asked a question: Is there sexual harassment in your auto shop? If there is, your employees and company morale will suffer, and your company itself may be at risk. Here we will talk about what the U.S. Government considers sexual harassment to be, how you can recognize it, and what to do if it happens in your workplace.
Any environment with people will eventually have social problems a manager must handle. Relationships between men and women, groups of men and women, or diverse social/ethnic/economic groups can be complex. What one group of people considers normal behavior may offend or even frighten another group. Workplace sexual harassment accusations crop up frequently when a male-to-female ratio is skewed. Let’s go through some frequently asked questions to help clear things up.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
“Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.”
What does that mean, exactly? Sexual harassment is broader than making inappropriate advances. It’s any verbal or physical behavior that is unwelcome and creates a hostile work environment for anyone in the workplace, not just the target of the advance or the remark. This would seem hard for a manager to pin down or enforce. What if a sexual remark or advance isn’t unwelcome? Quantifying what is or is not welcome sexually tinged behavior in a diverse workplace is an impossible task. Part of the definition of sexual harassment is how it affects the entire group of people, not only the individuals directly involved.
A better way to understand and describe what sexual harassment is would be to ask: What behavior is appropriate in a work environment? Sexual comments, stories, images, email, gestures, and touching are not. Some employees may like or feel comfortable with these kinds of things, but many will not, so it’s better to discourage or prohibit them in your auto repair shop.
Some examples of sexual harassment would include:
- Sharing sexy pictures or videos
- Sending suggestive notes, letters, or email
- Telling lewd or off-color jokes or stories
- Commenting on people’s clothes, body parts or appearance
- Staring or whistling in a sexually appreciative way
- Sexual touching such as pinching, patting, rubbing, or brushing up against people
- Asking questions or making offensive comments about people’s sex lives, sexual orientation, or gender identity
Who Can Be a Sexual Harasser?
Anyone in the workplace, whether man or woman, manager, coworker, or even a client, independent contractor, or vendor can be a sexual harasser.
What Can an Employer Do to Stop Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
The first step employers can and should take is to communicate to their employees what sexual harassment is and that it will not be tolerated. Create a written anti-harassment policy and have every employee read and sign it. Managers should also make sure to keep an open channel of communication between themselves and their workers and establish a process for addressing concerns or grievances. They should carefully document any sexual harassment incidents as well as what actions were taken to correct the situation. The need for documentation cannot be overemphasized.
Ignoring sexual harassment in the workplace is a recipe for disaster for both workers and managers. Unaddressed it will lead to anger, fear, and resentment among workers. Bitter employees always have the option to sue for damages. Some of them will also take their cases to the court of public opinion – the media – and that’s a no win situation for any business, especially in the current climate of #Metoo accusations. In the case of workplace sexual harassment, the old adage is true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.