Kennedy Fipps — March 17, 2021

Sexual Harassment: How to Identify and Combat it in the Workplace

Kennedy Fipps

In light of current events, the need to address sexual harassment in the workplace has become evident.

The most recent allegations against Governor Cuomo of New York have sparked much controversy. Three former aides, a former health policy advisor, a member of the Executive Chamber staff, and a member of the 2020 Biden campaign have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Though he has denied these allegations, there is now an external investigation taking place. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuomo was looked to for wisdom and a voice of reason. Now, politicians are calling for him to step down from his role as Governor. Although we do not know all of the information or the outcome of this case, we would like to highlight the importance of not only acknowledging survivor statements but believing them, too. 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment can occur in a variety of ways. Sexual harassment is not gender-specific. The person being harassed, or the harasser, may identify as a man, a woman, or neither, and the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex from the harasser. An employee may be harassed by their supervisor, an agent of their employer, a co-worker, or a customer. A victim of harassment can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct, not just the person who was harassed. 

If experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, there may be pronounced actions taken to identify it is happening.

Some overt examples are unwanted kissing, sexual assault, inappropriate touching, being cornered, and sexually explicit comments. However, there are subtle forms of sexual harassment that may occur, too. These subtle forms have actually become more prevalent in our society today because they are more difficult to label. Some examples of these subtleties are sexual jokes, repeated hugs or unwanted touching, spreading nude pictures or pictures of female employees in a bikini or male employees shirtless, repeated comments about one’s appearance, or commenting on one employee’s attractiveness in front of another. These all constitute as sexual harassment and can cause an employee to be distressed or distracted from their work.

A 2019 National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assualt reported that 38% of all women and 14% of men have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. On top of this, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 17 men have searched for new assignments, switched jobs, or quit a job because of sexual harassment and assault. These statistics prove that sexual harassment in the workplace is common but is rarely reported. 

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and do not know what to do next, here are some tips provided by the EEOC

  1. Only if you feel comfortable, tell the person who is harassing you to stop. 
  2. If addressing the harasser about their behavior, and it does not stop:
    1. Check your employee handbook or website to see if there is an anti-harassment policy. Human Resources may have a copy of this if there is one available.
    2. If your employer provides an anti-harassment policy, then follow the steps for reporting and filing a complaint. 
    3. If your employer does not provide an anti-harassment policy, talk with your supervisor and ask them for help. 
    4. You are protected under the law to report harassment without being punished so that you can take part in an investigation.
    5. The EEOC provides services to help you file a harassment complaint. You can also meet with the EEOC to discuss the next steps if you are unsure of your workplace policies.

You are not to blame if you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

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