• Brooke Winter

#MeToo: Defining Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Updated: May 23, 2019

The topic that lingered in the shadows for decades in now being brought into the light.

by Brooke Winter

Since the birth of the #MeToo movement in 2017, there has been a massive spike in the amount of reported sexual harassment claims submitted to the EEOC ( Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ). Men and women are beginning to feel empowered to come forward and share their experiences about sexual harassment in the workplace which has shed light on a topic that has too often been overlooked. As an HR Consultant, I have found this issue to be more prevalent than most business owners realize.

However, with this topic on the forefront of workplace culture, questions have been raised about 1) what constitutes sexual harassment and 2) what are lawmakers doing to prevent this.

On Oct. 5, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency charged with enforcing the federal law against workplace discrimination, reported a 50 percent increase over 2017 in the number of sexual harassment lawsuits it had filed. The number of people filing charges of sexual harassment against their employers was up 12 percent over 2017. Even so, it's estimated that 70 percent of all cases of sexual harassment are never reported.

Before we get into what new polices are coming in 2019 that specifically relate to sexual harassment in the workplace, we need to first talk about what constitutes sexual harassment in the first place...

What counts as sexual harassment?

Many have asked why it has has taken so long for this issues to be dealt with- why isn't anyone doing anything?! The problem does not lie in the desire to make change but in the massive gray area that is defining sexual harassment. Some cases are black and white, but most are not so easily defined. Let's be clear, sexual harassment is wrong; the issue lies in proving there was sexual harassment.

The EEOC defines it as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature … 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.”

The Two Types:

Quid Pro Quo & Hostile Work Environment

If you've ever attended any sort of sexual harassment prevention training, you have heard these terms used. The majority of claims fall under the category of "hostile work environment" so I am going to focus this blog on that side of things.

In order for behavior to constitute as harassing, it has be unwelcome. This is the part that freaks most people out. How do I know if what I did was unwelcome? The answer: you don't. Here's what you need to remember: if the conduct or comments could reasonably be construed as offensive, assume they will be. In short, when in doubt, DON'T DO IT.

A few rude comments are (usually) not enough to create a hostile environment.

Sexual harassment has caused a lot of fear in employees to even have casual conversations with their co-workers. What if I say the wrong thing and offend someone? If you are thinking ahead and asking yourself these questions, chances are that you are not an offender. Offenders are generally unconcerned with how their behavior affects others and are therefore less likely to even recognize that they are harassing their co-workers. Sexual harassment prevention is not going to be perfect; some cases will inevitably slip through the cracks which is why we have laws being put into place to hold offenders accountable.

Here are few ways that you can prevent sexual harassment in your workplace:

• Don’t, make sexual comments about how they look (“You look hot!”).

• Don’t touch a co-worker without permission.

• Don’t talk about a co-worker in a derogatory manner.

• Don’t put up posters at work that portray women (or men) as sex objects (Swimsuit Edition, Harley Girls Calendar, etc.).

• Don’t whistle or cat-call, don’t use rude or obscene language to refer to members of either sex.

• Don’t touch yourself in a sexual manner around other people, or make rude hand or body gestures (pelvic thrusts, etc.).

• Don’t stand too close to a co-worker, block his or her way, etc.

• Don’t repeatedly ask out a co-worker or employee when he or she has declined the invitation.

• Don’t engage in “stalking behavior.”

Here's the bottom line:

If you treat your co-workers with respect and in a professional manner, you will likely not be involved in sexual harassment issues AND you will provide a safe, healthy environment for your whole team!

Please contact me for further help or to set up your training on Sexual Harassment Prevention TODAY! Initial consultation is free of charge.

Contact Information:

Brooke Winter

(530) 238-5643