Workplace harassment may be defined as any unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct that either denigrates or shows hostility or aversion towards a person on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, political affiliation, or disability; when such conduct:
- Has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment
- Has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an employee’s work performance
- Affects an employee’s employment opportunities or compensation
What constitutes a hostile work environment will be determined by looking at all of the mitigating circumstances specific to the individual situation, including the frequency of the allegedly harassing conduct, the severity of such conduct, whether that conduct is considered physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s performance.
Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when an employee makes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to another employee against his or her wishes. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such harassment occurs when:
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of an individual’s employment or a basis for employment decisions
- Unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance
- When such conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment
Sexual harassment can be a very complex subject, and can occur in a variety of ways and in a wide array of situations. Sexual harassment can involve a supervisor, but may also involve another manager, a vendor or other business partner, a peer or coworker, or even a customer. Anyone connected with the work environment can potentially be accused of harassment.
Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily characterized by a man harassing a woman. Harassment can occur with a woman victimizing a man, or harassment can occur between individuals of the same gender. If the harassment is sexual in nature, it is sexual harassment, regardless of gender.
Clearly, sexual harassment can be a very complicated subject. Any time that a Loss Prevention professional is called upon to participate in these investigations they should refer to their company’s specific policies and recommended procedures. Every employer has the responsibility to take workplace harassment complaints seriously, and follow their due diligence to investigate these matters to their appropriate conclusion. Such conduct cannot and will not be tolerated in the workplace and may lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
By capitalizing on opportunities to enhance our knowledge and education, we are making an investment in our own future. To learn more about workplace harassment, developing your leadership skills and the certification process, visit losspreventionfoundation.org.