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Sexual harassment and what your employer can do about it

Because of the #MeToo movement, more people are aware of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. Californians may believe that sexual harassment is a new phenomenon or suddenly on the rise. The truth is that sexual harassment has been a problem since women first entered the workforce. Women have just finally created a platform from which to share their stories.

Contrary to popular opinion, men have also been subjected to sexual harassment. Most may not come forward, but it is a problem that also needs addressing. Because of this, men have also lent their voice to the #MeToo movement.

How to identify sexual harassment

A common misunderstanding is that sexual harassment only includes harassment of a direct sexual nature. Business Insider points out that making offensive remarks about a person’s sex is also a form of sexual harassment.

Even when harassment is of a direct and sexual nature, victims may be unwilling to believe what is happening. They may wonder if they imagined it or read too much into the situation. Here are some clear indications of sexual harassment at work:

  •          The perpetrator makes blatant remarks about the victim’s body
  •          The victim feels that their job is at stake if they do not go along with it
  •          The victim feels as if they are being punished at work for their gender
  •          The perpetrator tries to engage the victim in conversations of a romantic and/or sexual nature

Note, however, that off-hand comments, isolated incidents and simple teasing may feel terrible, but they are not unlawful. Sexual harassment becomes unlawful when it is chronic and interferes with work.

How employers can protect workers

According to Forbes, companies need to address aggressive behavior the moment it starts. This helps to maintain a culture of respect and teamwork. Secondly, companies should encourage people to speak up when they notice cases of sexual harassment, even when they are not the victim. Finally, sexual harassment is a power move, so placing qualified women in top positions helps to balance power distribution in the workplace.

When an employee makes a claim, many employers err by placing the interests of the accused above the accuser. Differences in power is often what encourages this. Employers who are committed to nipping sexual harassment in the bud must take extra precautions to protect accusers while performing a thorough investigation into what happened.

It is impossible to dictate or even predict how an employer may react to sexual harassment allegations. Even so, concerned colleagues may help to start a movement for change, especially if they have some authority as supervisors, team leads or managers.

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