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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem that affects many employees and organizations. Research indicates that 90 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have at one time or the other dealt with a complaint of sexual harassment and that more than a third of them have faced lawsuits related to this issue. It's also a fact that this problem in not limited to the largest or most profitable organizations.

Recognizing Sexual Harassment

It's essential for everyone who supervises employees to have solid understanding of what sexual harassment is and to know how to recognize the implicit and explicit warning signs of dangers that put themselves, their employees, and their companies at risk. While some occurrences of sexual harassment in the workplace might be obvious, this is not true in all situations. Managers who are not properly trained often allow risky behaviors to take place simply because they do not fully understand what is considered sexual harassment.

While many supervisors realize that there are two forms of sexual harassment, (1) quid pro quo and (2) hostile work environment, many of them don't realize that there is such a thing as third party harassment. They are often surprised to learn that harassment complaints can legitimately be made by workers not directly impacted by harassing behaviors at work, yet who are subject to observing or being exposed to implicit or explicit conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace.

Additionally, supervisors often have the misperception that sexual harassment can only take place between supervisors and subordinates. The truth is that sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms. Companies can have liability in situations where harassing behaviors are allowed to take place that involve supervisors, subordinates, peers, customers, vendors, and contractors. This fact is something that everyone who holds a supervisory position needs to know.

Preventing and Responding to Harassment

In addition to knowing how to recognize harassment, managers must know why it's essential to be proactive in putting a stop to such actions, as well as how to do so. Many supervisors are shocked to learn that their companies are liable for sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace whether or not they were aware it is taking, or has taken, place. It's vital that managers know the appropriate way to respond to complaints of sexual harassment if such are made, regardless of whether or not they believe the allegations to be valid.

Supervisory Training is Essential

The best way for companies to reduce the risks they face regarding sexual harassment in the workplace is to start with a solid sexual harassment prevention policy and to follow it up by taking steps to ensure that their managers have a working knowledge of how to deal with inappropriate behaviors and allegations of sexual harassment. Ongoing supervisory sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors should be a key component in every company's comprehensive risk management plan.


About the Author

Mary Gormandy White, M.A., SPHR is the Training Coordinator for Mobile Technical Institute & MTI Business Solutions, where she specializes in human resources, management, and marketing training. She teaches business training seminars in Mobile, AL and provides on-site corporate training and conference presentations throughout the U.S., as well as human resource management and public relations consulting services. She is also the author of 101 Human Resource Management Tips and 101 Successful PR Campaign Tips in the LifeTips book series. She is the 2011 president of the Mobile (Alabama) Society for Human Resource Management chapter.


Mary White, M.A., SPHR HR/PR Consultant & Training Specialist, MTI Business Solutions 1301 Azalea Road • Mobile, AL • 36693 251-478-6848 Author, 101 Human Resource Management Tips

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