Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes.

On-the-job sexual harassment in the workplace is not a recent problem, although legal liability for it is. The American court system did not decide the first sexual harassment case under Title VII until 1976. Moreover, the wider public appears not to have fully appreciated the problem’s scope until 1991, when the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Anita Hill’s charges against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

In 1976, the same year that the District Court of the District of Columbia resolved the first Title VII sexual harassment case, a Redbook magazine poll found that nine out of ten women said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual advances at work.13 In 1980, the federal government surveyed its own employees and found that forty-two percent of women stated they had experienced some form of work-related sexual harassment. (In addition, fifteen percent of men reported such harassment.). When the federal government looked at the same issue seven years later, the numbers had not changed.16 Surveys done in the private sector revealed similar results. These statistics notwithstanding, most cases of sexual harassment still go unreported: as many as ninety-five percent of all such incidents may not be brought to light.

While the cost to victims is high, the cost to American business cannot be over-estimated. In the federal government’s first sexual harassment survey, it discovered that the government itself had lost $189 million between 1978 and 1980 from the effects of sexual harassment. In its next survey, the federal government saw its losses jump to $267 million for the years 1985 to 1987, even though the rate of sexual harassment had not changed.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the workplace

1. Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments and repartee.

2. Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waist, or interfering with an employee’s ability to move.

3. Repeated requests for dates that are turned down or unwanted flirting.

4. Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature.

5. Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters.

6. Playing sexually suggestive music.

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