The issue of sexual harassment is controversial. Some believe that sex has no place in the workplace and aim at making the work environment as asexual as possible. The human resource managers have to deal with the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace as they deal with the other challenges such as diversity and workforce retention. The paper will focus on 1) has the law gone too far in preventing and punishing sexual harassment in the workplace? 2) What constitutes a hostile work environment? Moreover 3) has society’s political correctness overblown the treatment of this issue or is continued diligence necessary?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” (“Preventing Sexual Harassment”1). The law was established to deal with matters of sexual harassment under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Title VII of the bill, discrimination in employment of all form is outlawed. Discrimination on basis of sex is deemed as sexual harassment and has been put into two categories. One, quid pro quo that means a work supervisor asks and employee for sexual favors in order to give them some benefits or punishes them for declining the sexual advances. Two, is hostile environment sexual harassment. The law against sexual harassment at the workplace has protected many people especially the women because they can sue their harassers.
However, the law has gone too far in its quest to prevent and punish sexual harassment at the workplace. This is because what constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace is not clear. What my offend one worker might not be offensive to another and thus an innocent act may end up being taken as harassment and lawsuits ensues. As long as a person can prove that, the act or work environment is unpleasant they can file a complainant. Thus, the law paralyzes the workplaces because people are unsure of how to behave or relate with their colleagues who might sue them. In addition, punishment for sexual harassment is enforced aggressively and the employers who have the authority of Title VII punish those accused of sexual transgressions that may lead to an uncomfortable or hostile work environment. The accused may be innocent due to the ambiguous nature of the crimes they are accused of and may either be fired or demoted from their work position. For example, there is the example of a manager who was put on probation for a year for hugging a female employee yet all he was doing was comforting her as she had lost her mother (Schultz 2061).
A hostile work environment can occur due to the actions of colleagues, customers, supervisors or any other person. It is different from quid pro quo, which is only promoted by supervisors or those with influence. Both sexual and non-sexual behavior constitutes a hostile work environment. The sexual behaviors include; off-color jokes, use of demeaning terms, indecent gestures, comments about a person’s physical attributes, discussions of activities of sexual nature, sending or display of pictures that are sexually suggestive in nature. Other behaviors are sabotage of a person’s work, exposure to hostile physical treatment, giving and withholding favors on basis of consensual in sexual favors and using offensive language. The just named behaviors constitute work hostile behavior and create a liability based on the victim’s gender (“Preventing Sexual Harassment” 1). On the other hand, the behavior does not have to be sexual in nature to constitute hostile work environment as physical assault on a women by a man even though not sexual in nature constitutes legal violation because it is based upon the gender of the victim.
The society’s political correctness has blown the issue of sexual harassment out of proportion. In order to be politically correct people are expected to be sensitive in their utterances especially in the public domain so as not to offend people. Many utterances are deemed inappropriate and equated to sexually harassment ranging from reasonable ones to unimaginable ones. For instance, a manager was accused of sexual harassment for kissing an employee on the cheek during her wedding as everybody else had (Brody 1). The fundamental freedom of speech in the First Amendment becomes threatened because one can be accused of saying things that might offend other even if they are not of a sexual nature. Organizations are forced to take measures to reduce the instances of sexual harassment suits by introducing measures such as no closed-door meetings when employees are of mixed sexes or opposite sex, employees are not sent away on business trips because a lawsuit might be filed. The fear of lawsuits actually might just lead to discrimination based on gender eroding the gains made by women in the employment field. In other words, political correctness is a backlash for women. More importantly, the whole society stands to loss if the political correctness continues because people are confused as many issues regarding sexual harassment are in the gray area.
The human resource managers in the health care sector must be very careful in handling their workforce especially at this time when they are facing a shortage of qualified personnel. They must hire and train skilled employees (Fried and Fottler 5). More importantly, they must be taught about sexual harassment as their profession provides them with a greater opportunity to be accused of sexual harassment as they often encounter physical contact with the patients.
Brody, Ben. “Sexual Harassment: Are We Now Too Sensitive?” Westchester Magazine 2009. Web.
Fried, J. Bruce and Myron, D. Fottler. Human resources in health care, Managing for Success. Chicago: Health Administrative Press, 2008.
Preventing Sexual Harassment A Fact Sheet For Employees. n.d. Web.
Schultz, Vicki. “The sanitized workplace.” Yale Law Journal 112.8 (2003): 2061+.Academic OneFile. Web.