Workplace Sexual Harassment: Insidious Problem in America
When you think of workplace sexual harassment, the scenario that likely comes to mind is that of an older male supervisor or boss making unwanted sexual advances to his younger female subordinate. However, while this kind of harassment unfortunately remains common in the American workplace, the phenomenon has expanded to include victimization of men by women and other men as well as women by other women.
At its core, workplace sexual harassment represents a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited by not only Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but also the laws of every state. One of the best ways to protect yourself from this, is to understand the basics of your civil rights and liberties.
Forms of Sexual Harassment
Workplace sexual harassment also plays into workplace discrimination, and takes two basic forms: quid pro quo (Latin meaning “this for that”) and hostile work environment. In quid pro quo, it involves people in positions of authority promising you career advancement, additional employee benefits, etc. in exchange for accepting their harassing behaviors. Alternatively, it can involve these perpetrators threatening you with wrongful termination, demotion, etc. unless you “cooperate.”
Hostile workplace environment involves a pattern of sexual harassment severe enough to negatively impact your ability to work and possibly even your mental health. Depending on the circumstances, you might have a case for a workers compensation claim as well. However, proving hostile workplace environment depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Who perpetrated the harassment, e.g., boss, co-worker, employer’s client, customer, supplier or visitor?
- Did more than one person engage in the conduct?
- How frequently did the conduct occur?
- Did it consist of verbal abuse, physical abuse or both?
- Were you the only victim or were others targeted as well?
- Did you believe the conduct was offensive, hostile, abusive, etc.?
- Would any reasonable person, not just you, consider the conduct to be patently offensive?
- To what extent did the harassment make you feel uncomfortable, humiliated or intimidated?
Types of Sexual Harassment
The ways in which workplace sexual harassment manifests are limited only by its perpetrators’ imaginations. However, common types include:
- Unwanted, inappropriate and offensive touching, such as kissing, caressing, fondling or grabbing
- Unwanted and unwelcome requests for sexual favors
- Sexually based jokes and innuendos
- Unwanted and offensive emails and texts, especially those containing photos, memes, etc.
Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
While sexual harassment can and does occur in virtually any workplace, it tends to be more pervasive in professions and industries such as the following, in which women have historically made up a large percentage of the workforce:
- Restaurant, food service and hospitality workers
- Administrative assistants, secretaries, etc.
- Entertainers (movie and TV actors, musicians, etc.)
Restaurant, food service and hospitality workers
Statistically, more restaurant industry employees file sexual harassment claims than workers in any other industry. In fact, 90% of female restaurant workers and 70% of their male counterparts report experiencing some type of workplace sexual harassment. For the most part, this harassment comes from customers, but managers and co-workers also account for perpetrators. A combination of factors go into putting restaurant workers at high risk for sexual harassment, not the least among them being “the customer is always right” thinking. In addition, managers often instruct servers, particularly female ones, to “use their looks” to “enhance the customer experience” as well as to increase the amount of their tips. Restaurant chains consequently often require their female servers to wear provocative clothing, uniforms or costumes.
Recent studies of nurses reveal the following:
- 73% of female nurses report sexual harassment by patients as compared to 46% of male nurses.
- 41.1% of female nurses report sexual harassment by physicians.
- 27.7% of female nurses report sexual harassment by patients’ family members.
- 20% of female nurses report sexual harassment by other nurses.
- 17.8% of female nurses report sexual harassment by co-workers other than physicians or nurses.
- Overall, female nurses report the types of sexual harassment they experience as psychological (40.8%), verbal (35%), nonverbal (32.6%) and physical (31%).
- Of the female nurses reporting sexual harassment victimization, 61.26% reported developing emotional problems, 51.79% reported developing psychological disturbances, 44.6% reported developing mental health problems, 30.2% reported developing physical health problems and 16% reported developing social health problems.
Administrative assistants and secretaries
Sexual harassment of female secretaries and administrative assistants goes back a long way and occurs in all professions, industries and government offices. Unfortunately, many office assistants are routinely subjected to such kinds of sexual harassment as:
- Comments about their appearance
- Vulgar sexual language, jokes and innuendo
- Unwanted touching by bosses, co-workers or even the employer’s customers or clients
- Unwanted requests for dates
- Questions about their sex lives
- Unwanted suggestive emails, texts, phone calls, etc.
In a recent 4-year period, teachers reported over 73,000 incidents of workplace sexual harassment, including such violent acts as rape and sexual battery. Student-on-teacher sexual harassment by males against females is becoming ever more common despite how people continue to believe that teachers always hold power positions over students. In addition, many people, including high school and college administrations, often take a less-than-serious view of reported male-on-female sexual harassment, especially when it involves students harassing teachers, passing it off as a “boys will be boys” phenomenon not worthy of much investigation, let alone any accountability.
Entertainers (movie and TV actors, musicians, etc.)
“Casting couch” stories have run rampant in Hollywood for decades and represent a continuing part of Hollywood lore. Movie and TV actors face substantial risk of sexual harassment from not only their directors and producers, but also from other actors, make-up artists, wardrobe designers, hairdressers and even fans. More than a few actresses have been stalked, physically or electronically, by male fans who wrongly presume a mutual sexual attraction.
As for musicians, when the Musician’s Union surveyed 30,000 of its members, 48% of those who replied reported experiencing sexual discrimination, harassment or abuse while at work.
When To Hire an Attorney
If you experience workplace sexual harassment, immediately tell the perpetrator to stop the behavior the first time it occurs. Report the harassment to the proper human resources or senior management executive. If your employer fails to investigate and stop the unwanted behavior, contact a local employment attorney experienced in workplace sexual harassment cases.