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Workplace Harassment

Sexual harassment scandals loom large among the events that shaped 2017.

Fueled by revelations that longtime movie producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein forced himself on dozens of women — including such A-list celebs as Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie — people of both genders are speaking out now against those who have exploited workplace interactions for personal fulfillment.

"That a producer would intimate, sexually harass, or even rape an actress wasn’t itself a revelation," James Hibberd wrote in the Nov. 3, 2017, issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine. "The gut-punch devastation was due to the severity and the extent: Weinstein’s alleged behavior was that criminal and depraved? With that many women? Who are that famous? For that long?"

A cleanup is afoot in Hollywood, government, media and big business. Any company that hopes to avoid the embarrassment and reputational harm of a sexual harassment scandal is evaluating policies and updating its employee training.

The need for guidance

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (R.A.I.N.N.), someone new experiences a sexual assault every 98 seconds.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines workplace sexual harassment as:

"…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

Two in 10 sexual harassment complaints are made by men, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC found that roughly 75% of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported, generally because victims feel afraid or ashamed. It follows that historically, three out of four employees who speak out against sexual harassment experience some manner of retaliation, according to the EEOC.

Sexual harassment also is illegal because the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 names it as a form of discrimination.

Sexual harassment attorneys say it’s important for employers to know that inappropriate interactions need not be blatant to perpetuate a sexual harassment lawsuit.

"Despite the popular belief, many forms of sexual harassment do not involve any form of physical contact or blatant sexual advances," attorney Kenneth G. Ruttenberg wrote in a 2014 blog post. "One way employers may be able to reduce or possibly prevent sexual harassment in the workplace is by offering up-to-date information and training on what does and does not constitute such harassment."

Research indicates that businesses that fail to address sexual harassment allegations quickly see decreased productivity and retention rates.

What follows are a half-dozen overt behaviors between colleagues — even seemingly consensual acts — that could be grounds for future sexual harassment litigation.

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No. 6: Displaying inappropriate materials

A sassy pinup girl calendar may have once been seen as a workplace morale booster. But today such sexy or sexist materials could be viewed as contributing to a hostile work environment.

The following workplace behaviors are outlined as unlawful by the sexual intimidation attorneys at Phillips & Associates, which has offices in in New York and New Jersey:

  • Several employees posting sexually explicit or demeaning jokes, pictures, cartoons, or other materials on an office bulletin board;

  • An employee sending emails to coworkers that contain sexually explicit language and jokes.

No. 5: Unprofessional language or pet names

Nothing in culture is stagnant, and that includes language.

It may have once been considered kind or polite to refer to a woman as honey, sweetheart or sweet pea. But today such pet names, when used on the job, set the wrong tone.

"To me, pet names sound patronizing," writes blogger S.E. Smith. "They make me feel about two feet tall."

A 2016 survey of 2,000 British women found that most women hate such pet names as babe and sweety.

No. 4: Flirting and unwelcome advances

Barnes v. Train (1974) is widely considered the first legal case in the U.S. in which a supervisor was deemed in breach of the law for refusing to advance an employee after she declined his repeated sexual advances.

According to records from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Paulette Barnes secured a job as an administrative assistant at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her supervisor, Douglas Costle, promised during her job interview that she would receive a promotion after 90 days. Once she was hired, Costle "initiated a quest for sexual favors." Barnes deflected the advances, and was subsequently never promoted.

The attorneys at Phillips & Associates expressly point to these behaviors as being in violation of the law:

  • Repeatedly standing too close to or brushing up against a person;

  • Repeatedly asking a person to socialize during off-duty hours when the person has previously declined;

  • Giving gifts or leaving objects that are sexually suggestive;

  • Off-duty, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects the work environment.

No. 3: Inappropriate gestures and touching

What has always been true in preschool and kindergarten — keep your hands to yourself — is doubly true in a professional setting. To that end, the following description shows up on several government websites as falling under the umbrella of sexual harassment: "Repeatedly making sexually suggestive gestures."

In addition to flashing, grabbing and groping, The Armstrong Law Firm in California lists these behaviors as potential grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit:

  • Hip thrusts and other sexually suggestive actions;

  • Hand gestures that simulate sex acts;

  • Obscene gestures with the lips or tongue;

  • Simulating groping or touching;

  • Use of the middle finger in a threatening or sexual way;

  • Body language used to corner, trap or threaten;

  • Leering, ogling and suggestive facial expressions.

No. 2: Forced kissing

This is what landed comedian-turned-politician Al Franken in hot water. A Los Angeles radio anchor has accused the former Minnesota senator of forcing her to kiss him more than a decade ago. Franken has apologized for his actions, and stated that he believed the kissing was consensual.

But Franken also was photographed attempting to grope the woman's breasts while she slept on an airplane. He has since resigned from Congress.

President Donald Trump also has been accused of forcibly kissing and (infamously) grabbing women.

No. 1: Coerced or forced sexual acts

Consent between adults is difficult to confirm when one of those adults is in a position of power.

Model Keri Claussen Khalighi says she had sex with music mogul Russell Simmons when she was a teenager simply because she was confused and traumatized by the older man's advances. Simmons has reportedly apologized to Khalighi in private for his actions.

Khalighi is one of a dozen women who have recounted similar interactions with Simmons.

SOURCE - Property Casualty 360 - 6 Behaviors that Could Spawn a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
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