Sexual Harassment on the Job
Sexual harassment is illegal and unprofessional, yet
thousands of workers each year experience sexual harassment on the
job. In many instances, it is a supervisor or manager who engages in
sexual harassment. While the majority of harassment victims are
women, men can also experience sexual harassment. A victim of
harassment can be of the same or the opposite sex as the harasser.
Workers who are victims of sexual harassment are
often afraid to speak up and feel powerless to do anything about
their situation. When victims do seek help, they may come to the
union steward. The steward is often the person closest to the
problem and knows all of the parties involved. This brochure is
intendd to help you, the union steward, be prepared to deal with
sexual harassment issues in the workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is unwelcome
What Conduct is Considered
Unwelcome and unwanted behavior may include:
touching, pinching, rubbing, bumping or patting;
sexist remarks about a person's body, clothing or
propositions or explicit demands for sexual
activity not mutually agreeable to both parties;
leering at a person's body;
verbal harassment or abuse;
using crude and offensive language or sexual
granting job favors to those who participate in
consensual sexual activity;
displaying sexually offensive or pornographic
using offensive or sexually suggestive gestures;
discussing sexual activities;
using demeaning or inappropriate terms (e.g.,
"honey"; "cutie"; "bitch").
The Law Prohibits:
Quid Pro Quo Conduct: This term literally
means "this for that" and covers situations where submission to
unwelcome sexual activity is made a condition of employment or the
basis for decisions affecting the worker's job or working
conditions. The harasser will be someone in a position of authority
who appears to be able to carry out the threatened consequences.
Hostile Work Environment: A hostile
environment occurs when a supervisor or co-worker harasses a worker
solely because of gender. Usually, a hostile, intimidating or
offensive working environment will be caused by persistent and
repeated incidents of harassment. However, a single incident might
create a hostile environment if the conduct involved is serious
Sexual Favoritism: Harassment can occur when
a supervisor plays favorites and rewards those who respond to sexual
advances, whice denying job benefits or favorable working conditions
to others who are equally qualified but who are not engaging in
sexual activity with the supervisor.
Gender-Based Harassment: Derogatory comments
or offensive behavior based solely on gender may also be unlawful
even if it is not overtly sexual in nature. For example, making
derogatory comments to or playing pranks on a woman because
she is a woman.
Indirect Harassment/Retaliation: Witnesses to
sexual harassment at work can be victims of a hostile work
environment even if they are not the target of the harassing
conduct. An employee who complains about harassment is also
protected from adverse job action based on the complaint.
Who Is Responsible?
The employer is responsible for the acts of its
agents and supervisors, as well as for the acts of co-workers and
non-employees (such as vendors, customers or contractors) in
circumstances where management knows, or reasonably should know,
about the harassment and fails to take immediate and effective
Why Does Harassment Occur?
The most common motivation for sexual harassment is
power, not sexual desire. Sexual harassment is caused by a desire to
control another person or group of people by humiliating and
demeaning them. As a result, most harassment victims are those who
have the most to fear from losing their job or job benefits. Many
working women are still clustered in jobs at the lower end of the
pay scale where they are less likely to feel comfortable about
"making waves". These women are often the most likely targets of
Most sexual harassment goes unreported because
victims are made to feel ashamed about what has happened to them.
They are afraid that others will say that they "asked for it" or
that they will not be believed if they report the conduct. Even
where the employer has a policy prohibiting sexual harassment, they
may be afraid of being branded as "troublemakers" or that they will
face retaliation. Rather than be embarrassed or lose their jobs,
victims may either quit or take sick leave or try to move to a
different job. This leaves the harasser free to victimize other
The Steward's Role:
How to Handle a Sexual Harassment Complaing
If a member comes to you for help:
1. Get the Facts. Find out the specific
behavior of the harasser toward the member. Get the times and places
the harassment occurred, how long the problem has been going on and
names of witnesses, if any. Find out if the victim told the harasser
that the behavior was unwelcome or complained to management. This is
important because failure to complain about the sexual harassment
could be used as evidence that the sexually directed behavior
was not unwelcome. Find out if the victim has complained to the
supervisor or another representative of management, or if she/he has
filed a complaint as set forth in company policy.
2. Be Careful and Considerate in Asking
Questions. Always keep in mind that it was probably difficult
for the victim to come to you with the problem and that your
response will have a big effect on how comfortable she/he feels
about getting it resolved. Don't make any comments that might
suggest you do not believe what is being said or that the problem
might be the victim's fault. (For example, don't ask "Are you
sure that really happened?" "Are you sure you aren't just
over-reacting?") Instead, emphasize that you are glad the employee
came to you and that you want to help get the problem resolved, but
need to ask some questions to be sure you have all the facts.
3. Reassure the Victim that what has happened
is not their fault and they should not blame themselves. Explain
that you will treat your conversation as confidentially as possible,
but that you will have to talk to the accused harasser and/or the
company about the situation in order to get the problem resolved in
an effective way.
4. Advise the worker to start keeping a diary
or log of each occurence. Include direct quotes, date, time,
witnesses, descriptions of sexual pictures, etc. Make sure the
worker keeps the diary in a safe place.
5. Conduct a Preliminary Investigation. It
will be important to try to gather sufficient facts to warrant
presenting the complaint to management and/or filing a grievance on
behalf of the employee.
6. Filing a Complaint and/or a Grievance. The
employer is responsible for providing a safe, harassment-free
workplace. It is also required by law to have an effective,
well-publicized anti-harassment policy that includes a process for
filing complaints, as well as effective remedies, and guarantees
against retaliation. If an employee fails to follow the complaint
process, the employer can argue that it should not be liable for the
harassment if a lawsuit is later filed by the employee.
If, after you have gathered the necessary facts, it
appears that the problem cannot be resolved informally with the
parties involved, the employee should be encouraged to file a
complaint with the employer under its anti-harassment complaint
process. It may also be appropriate to file a grievance as well,
citing the contract clause covering non-discrimination.
When the alleged harasser is a co-worker, you should
seek guidance from the appropriate local officer. In certain cases,
you may be able to resolve the problem informally if the victim is
interested in such a solution (e.g., an apology by the
co-worker for a minor misunderstanding).
7. Keep the Local Informed. Chances are they
have dealt with this kind of problem before and can advise you and
help resolve the problem.
Sexual Harassment Is Against
Sexual Harassment is Against the Law.
Harassment on the basis of sex violates Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 as well as state and local anti-discrimination