Sexual harassment at work

Taking the bull by the horns

Taslim Ahammad | Published: April 06, 2018 22:13:00


Sexual harassment is an unwanted advance, unwelcome request for sexual favour or other unwelcome conduct of this type which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in such a situation. However, sexual harassment is not consensual dealings, flirtation or friendship, it is not the behaviour that is mutually agreed upon. Sexual harassment can happen in varied forms as follows.

Quid pro quo: This denotes sexual harassment that happens when a superviser or one having the authority requests sex or a sexual relationship, in exchange for not firing or otherwise punishing the employee, or in exchange for favour, such as promotions or anything else.

Hostile work environment: This is a type of sexual harassment that arises through the existence of demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes. The unfortunate behaviour/conduct must be as pervasive as to create a frightening/offensive work environment.

Examples of sexual-harassment behaviour:

                *             requests for sex

                *             sexually explicit pictures or posters

                *             unwelcome touching

                *             staring or leering

                *             suggestive comments or jokes

                *             sexually explicit physical contact

                *             unwanted invitations to go out on dates

                *             intrusive questions about a person's private life or body

                *             unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person

                *             insults or taunts based on sex

                *             sexually explicit emails or text messages

Any single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment, it does not have to be repeated.

Employer retaliation is illegal: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who file complaints. While this may hold some comfort, employees know that in the real world retaliation in some form may occur.

Effect of sexual harassment:

                *             loss of confidence and self-esteem

                *             withdrawal from social situations

                *             feeling stressed, anxious or depressed

                *             being less productive and unable to concentrate

                *             having physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, backaches or sleep problems

Responding to harassment:

Be informed: If you're being harassed at work, find out what their policies and procedures are for preventing and handling sexual harassment.

Keep a diary: Document everything that happens, including when it occurred, the names of any people who saw what happened, and what you've done to try to stop it.

Save any evidence: Keep text messages, social media comments, notes and emails. This evidence can help, if you make a complaint.

Get external information and advice: For work situations, check law stuff to find the union representing your industry and social workers.

Tell someone: Sexual harassment is not something you need to deal with on your own. In the workplace, it might be worth talking to your HR (human resource) manager, who will be able to help you decide on what to do. You might also want to talk to trusted friends or family members about what's going on.

Inform the harasser actions are offensive: While this is the most difficult act for victims of harassment, it is ultimately the most effective method of ending the behaviour. The harasser may not even be aware that her/his behaviour is offensive, and it is always best to "nip" it in the bud before inappropriate comments or jokes, left unchecked, turn into something uglier.

Harasser liability: While the person who sexually harasses someone else is liable for their own behaviour, employers can also be held vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment by their employees or agents. Sexual harassment can involve employees, managers, contractors, agents, volunteers, clients, customers and others connected with or attending a workplace. It can happen at work, at work-related events or between colleagues outside the work environment.

Employer liability: If either quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment can be proven, employers may be liable for compensatory (monetary loss, pain and suffering) and punitive damages. Liability may depend on who committed the harassment (superior or co-worker) and what action the company took to correct it.

Make a complaint to the authority: If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, victimised or vilified, contact the authority and talk about your concerns.

Human resources and supervisors: If there is no lessening of the harassment after personal appeals to stop, then escalate your complaint to the next level.

Law and protection: Sexual harassment is against the law under the Equal Opportunity Act. Some types of sexual harassment may also be offences under the criminal law. These include indecent exposure, stalking, sexual assault and obscene or threatening communications, such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages and posts on social networking sites. Employers should consider reporting criminal offences to the police.

Government intervention: In order to file a civil lawsuit, you better first send your complaint to the company authority. If they (company) investigate it and still no settlement is eminent, then you better file a lawsuit.

Local attorney/social worker evaluates harassment claim: Get a head-start today by having a local employment lawyer or social worker evaluate your potential claim and advice.

Strategies to stop the harassment: With the above legal standards for sexual harassment at work in mind, victims of harassment also bear the burden of attempting to end it. There are several levels of escalation to employ in putting an end to workplace sexual harassment. First, you should personally try to end it. If that doesn't work, look at your employee handbook or manual and see what policies the company has in place and take your complaint to that level. No matter what, you should document everything (each instance of harassment, what actions were taken by superiors).

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in a workplace. Employers must clearly communicate with employees to assuage them that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can impart sexual harassment prevention training to their employees and establish an effective complaint or grievance process and take immediate and appropriate action, when an employee complains.

The writer is Assistant Professor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Gopalganj, Bangladesh.

Email: taslim.ahammad@gmail.com

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