.. ion They may be doctors or typists, police officers or telephone operators, construction workers or even members of Congress – more than half of workingwomen have faced the problem of sexual harassment at some point in their careers. Although the severity may vary from patterns of obscene joking to outright assault, the emotional damage is often profound and long lasting. Up until just a few years ago, women had no recourse when confronted with such harassment by a boss or co-worker. However, the problem continues to thrive among the female work force reminding women of their vulnerability and creating tensions that make their jobs more difficult. The recent cases that have been either settled out of court or won in the courtroom, have set sexual harassment in the lime-light.
The backing of the EEOC and precedent cases have initiated a wake-up call to discrimination to the point of increased lawsuits, yet with a decreasing number if incidents of sexual harassment occurring. Millions of dollars have been won by the female victims and companies are quickly establishing strict no harassment policies to prevent any future liabilities. CASE 4 & Evaluation: Oncale v. Textron Oil In a case involving a man who was harassed by other men at work, the Supreme Court justices interpreted sexual harassment as harassment because the individual is a man or a woman, not because they were abused in a sexual matter. Joseph Oncale’s male co-workers on an offshore oilrig in 1991 threatened to rape him and forced a bar of soap between his buttocks.
A lower court threw out his sexual harassment suit on the ground that he was brutalized by men and cannot rely on a law that was drafted to protect women from men’s harassment. “Although the Washington Post reports that a majority of the justices seemed to think that civil rights law applies to same-sex harassment, several said that a victim must show that harassment was due to his sex.” Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that There was no other sex involved in this case…How we can know how these gross people would have treated women? They interpret sexual harassment as harassment because the individual is a woman or a man, not because they were abused in a sexual way. Under this rationale, a harasser who harasses both sexes is not a harasser. The Justice Department has sided with Oncale. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that a federal law that bans on-the-job sexual harassment could apply even when the harasser and the victim are the same sex.
In a case closely watched by gay rights groups, the decision provides victims of homosexual harassment with their first-ever federal remedy. By a unanimous vote, the court revived the federal lawsuit of a Louisiana man, Joseph Oncale, who says he was sexually pursued and harassed by his male supervisor and two other men during his four months of working on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig. The ruling means that victims of sexual harassment by people of the same sex can sue in federal court even though Congress never has said bias based on sexual orientation is illegal. The court made it clear that someone claiming same-sex harassment must prove that the alleged discrimination was based on gender, and not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations. Interview In an interview, labor and employment lawyer Steven Sack discusses the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in the work place.
Sacks states that while statistically harassment in the workplace is decreasing, with more women entering the work force, the number of complaints is rising. The following are two important questions asked, that is essential in dealing with sexual harassment. Insight: Do you think harassment and discrimination are as much a problem as they were 20 years ago? Steven Sacks: They are more prevalent as more and more women enter the workforce, many for the first time. Few are knowledgeable about their legal rights. Even when they know they have rights, they don’t know what those rights are.
And secondly, while the number of discrimination complaints and the amount of harassment might be going down statistically on a ratio basis, many more women are entering the workplace, so collectively the number of these complaints is staggering and increasing every year. Insight: Is failing to establish a paper trail the biggest mistake that women make? Steven Sacks: Absolutely. Let me give you two tips in this area. In sexual harassment many women are afraid to come forward if they believe they will be deemed a troublemaker and might end up getting fired. Nothing could be more unlikely.
No. 1, you have to document your complaint so you don’t indicate that it was something that was insignificant to you. Workers can’t suddenly complain about something that happened three years ago and expect to get relief in court. Under federal EEOC rules you have 300 days, and in some areas 150 days, to make a complaint. No.
2, by documenting your complaint you put the company on notice. Companies are legally responsible objectively and immediately to investigate the complaint. Then if they demote you, transfer you, reassign you or fire you, you can file a retaliatory complaint. When you write a complaint you may actually be protecting your job. Employer Rights if Taken Correct Action An employer who quickly investigates a claim of sexual harassment, verifies the claim, and promptly punishes the accused harasser can avoid liability for sexual harassment under the test for employer liability recently established by the US Supreme Court.
A recent HR Direct stated: “During an business trip, a female employee was subjected to crude sexual comments and gestures by a company vice president. The employee objected and warned the vice president that his behavior was sexual harassment. The employee reported the harassment to the director of human resources. The employer promptly investigated the complaint, found that it was valid, issued a verbal and written reprimand to the vice-president, and later suspended him without pay for seven days. In an extra measure of good management, the employer promised that the employee would never have to work with the vice president again, guaranteed that her complaint would not affect her chances for promotion, and offered to pay for any counseling she might need. The employee sued for sexual harassment anyway.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently established that under the test for employee liability, an employer might assert a defense to a claim of sexual harassment when no adverse employment action is taken. However, the employer must show that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct sexual harassment and that the employee claiming harassment unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s policy.
Although the employee did take advantage of the employer’s policy in this case, the court held that the employer’s swift response stopped the harassment and prevented a hostile environment from developing. Many states require companies to have a corporate sexual harassment policy with full visibility to all employees. HR Focus Edition 74, December 1997, listed six steps to corporate compliance to prevent harassment in the workplace. The steps include establishing good legal advice and conducting thorough investigations as followed. 1) GET GOOD LEGAL ADVICE. Seek the assurance of your local legal counsel about compliance with all of the current laws and regulations before posting or disseminating anti-sexual harassment materials. Make sure you are abiding by the laws of those states where you have employees.
Consult counsel before implementing any new policies. 2) IMPLEMENT A POLICY. Amend your employee handbook to include explicit policies on all forms of harassment, including sexual harassment, whether it is heterosexual or same-gender. Most importantly, enforce it and take it very seriously. 3) CONDUCT PREVENTION SEMINARS.
Many law firms are willing to present such seminars at no charge. Conduct these meetings annually and include information about same-sex harassment. 4) OUTLINE GRIEVANCE STEPS. Show employees how to file a grievance, and include sexual harassment complaints within that mechanism. 5) CONDUCT THOROUGH INVESTIGATIONS. Respond promptly and sensitively to complaints, but be thorough. Conduct these investigations with your in-house human resources staff either under the guidance of counsel or by contract with an outside service.
Seek legal advice before doing anything, though. As for other employees, communicate openly from the start. Make it clear that you cannot promise confidentiality for witness statements; let them know also that you will not unnecessarily disseminate information, either. 6) TAKE NECESSARY CORRECTIVE ACTION. Do not be afraid to enforce the disciplinary action warranted by the results of the investigation.
You must also concern yourself with the rights of the allegedly harassing party the right against defamation and wrongful discipline/termination. As a result, of numerous laws-notably the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the employers face more financial exposure than ever before. Organizations-and their directors, officers, and managers-that violate federal and state regulations prohibiting harassment and discrimination, or that fail to adequately supervise their employees, can be held liable for not taking steps to prevent these situations. A multimillion-dollar verdict could threaten an organization’s profitability or even its very existence. If a company instills a no harassment policy, legal action can be preventable. Concluding Ideas of Sexual Harassment Federal law as well as various state fair-employment laws prohibits employers from treating members of one sex or race differently from members of the opposite sex or another race in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The laws also regulates employment process from pre-employment to the life of the employee and even afterwards. Sexual Harassment is not only controlled, but many famous court cases have set precedence in the progression of stronger regulations decreasing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Not only has women been recognized, a case dealing with the same-sex brought the reality of sexual harassment between two men or two women. Sexual Harassment can be defined as an unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. These constitute sexual harassment when submission to such conduct is either made explicitly or implicitly based on a term or condition of an individual’s employment. Sexual conduct can be pranks to pornographic pictures permeating the workplace. The employer is and will always be responsible for providing a corporate practice stressing a no sexual harassment environment.
The corporate practice calls for companies to create and publicize a forceful policy against sexual harassment. However, first and foremost, educating employees about what constitutes harassment and its effects is vital, because there is considerable uncertainty and disagreement about what harassment is. Statistics The number of sexual harassment plaintiff attorneys has roughly triples to 3,000 from 1991 to 1995. A recent Army report indicated that 76% of female soldiers and 78% of male soldiers experiences crude or offensive behavior. Sexual harassment touches the lives of 40-60% of workingwomen and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities.
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