A Word On Email
And we're back for the final lesson of this three-lesson course on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Let's take a moment to specifically discuss email in relation to the Hostile Work Environment argument. In my opinion, this is a huge area for both employees and employers to be aware of.
The Internet is overflowing with off-color jokes, videos, sounds — you name it — and most of them are spread by email. No one can necessarily stop these messages from coming into a work environment, but that doesn't mean they don't pose a significant risk for sexual-harassment issues.
Suppose your best friend, Bob, forwards you a copy of the latest Hooters newsletter, complete with this month's featured Hooters Girl. You may welcome that email!
You get along with your office mate, Darin, quite well, so you innocently forward the email to him. He forwards it to some of his friends at the company and, pretty soon, it becomes a contributor to a Hostile Work Environment.
Worse yet, someone down the line might accidentally send it to a group or, God forbid, the whole company! Then it gets traced back to you....
The Hostile Work Environment
As we’ve learned, one of the two type of sexual harassment claims is called Hostile Work Environment. Put simply, this argument arises when an employee feels uncomfortable — or, worse yet, threatened — because of the workplace itself, including the people in it.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to qualify as a Hostile Work Environment, actions have to be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person. Others define hostile work environments as a condition that makes the employee fear going to work.
A Hostile Work Environment has nothing to do with the harasser being the boss, or the employee being held back from a promotion. Hostile Work Environment exists even when peers and those organizationally subordinate to the victim create a workplace that a reasonable person would find sexually offensive.
Guys, there’s a camera RIGHT. THERE.
Examples of Hostile Work Environment
- Touching, grabbing, or impeding movements (like intentionally standing in the way of someone, or brushing up against a person)
- Off-color jokes, pictures, posters, and comments
- Distributing offensive emails
Quid Pro Quo
The other main type of sexual harassment is called Quid Pro Quo.
The only way for Quid Pro Quo harassment to exist is for there to be a relationship between the harasser and the victim. Since Quid Pro Quo literally translates to “this for that,” it requires that the harassing party be in a position to either offer something in exchange or withhold something (a raise, a promotion, a better parking space) if certain favors are not granted to the supervisor.
Examples of Quid Pro Quo harassment.
- Not interviewing a qualified employee for a promotion because they declined a request for a date
- Threatening to terminate the employee for not cooperating with requests
- Giving poor evaluations to employees who refuse the supervisor’s advances
The world of sexual harassment is a difficult one. Employees often have no intention of committing offensive behavior, victims are truly the ones who determine (at least to some extent) what is harassing and what is not.
On top of that, employers are sometimes held liable for millions of dollars in these cases. That’s a tough position for an employer since there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules to follow to insure against a claim.
So what can you do?
Read on to find out.
Tom’s Take: What YOU Can Do To Avoid A Sexual Harassment Claim
As an Employee
- BE AWARE of the two likely types of sexual harassment: Hostile Work Environment and Quid Pro Quo.
- AVOID behaviors that COULD be reasonably construed by another as offensive or threatening
- REPORT behavior that you find offensive to the appropriate hotline, supervisor, or manager
- REMEMBER, your emails and printed materials (such as cartoons) have the potential to go well beyond your intended recipients