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Keep Your Hands and Remarks to Yourself
Sexual harassment at work is illegal
Lavell Pride
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We all want jobs, but often when people are first starting out, they don’t really know what it means to act appropriately on the job. One thing that really bothers me is when guys approach their female coworkers in a flirtatious way. I’ve noticed that a lot of young men don’t understand that in a work environment, there are boundaries they need to respect.

I’m talking about sexual harassment, and I’ve seen it in three forms: verbal, body language, and physical (touching). There are times when guys ask inappropriate questions like “Are you seeing anyone?” or “Do you have a boyfriend?” Questions like these can make work a very uncomfortable place if the guy won’t stop asking.

Some guys might think that trying to start an office romance is harmless, but they don’t realize that, very often, their flirtation and comments make their female coworkers feel very uncomfortable, and even oppressed.

image by YC-Art Dept

Federal law describes workplace sexual harassment, which is illegal, as unwanted or continuing sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. You can be reprimanded or fired for sexually harassing a coworker.

A Serious Problem

Sometimes, the way men talk to their coworkers goes from flirtatious to downright abusive. There are a lot of young men who use profanity in a way that degrades women, like calling someone “nothing special,” or a sl-t, a whore, or a b-tch. I think men call women these things sometimes because they feel they’re being rejected. So they take out their anger by using those profanities. Sometimes guys put women down like that because they want to feel power over us.

image by YC-Art Dept

Even though these guys get mad, there are different ways to handle talking to females who reject them—like walking away or just accepting that a woman just wants to have a professional relationship.

Sometimes a guy will take the harassment beyond flirting, to a physical level. Once after work, a young man from my office put his hands high up on my thigh. When I told him I was uncomfortable with that, he just replied, “Oh, chill out, girl.” I felt completely disrespected.

The federal government considers sexual harassment to be a form of gender discrimination that violates one’s civil rights. Since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, the laws on sexual harassment have become even stricter. In 1988, the U.S Supreme Court made employers more liable for sexual harassment of their employees. The society for Human Resource management has reported that 62% of companies now offer sexual harassment prevention training programs, and 97% have a written sexual harassment policy.

image by YC-Art Dept

Sexual harassment laws are important because they show employees what’s acceptable behavior in a workplace. But just learning about the law is not enough—I think it’s every employee’s responsibility to discourage sexual harassment and make sure their coworkers know the law. Employees can be influenced by their coworkers’ behaviors. So if an employee is sexually harassing someone, it can be a bad influence on other coworkers.

It’s not only women who are hurt by sexual harassment in the workplace. If one guy is going around sexually harassing the women, the women may think the other men in the workplace are the same as him. So guys who are not like that might get into trouble if they happen to be around the person who is doing the harassing. Both men and women should stand up against sexual harassment.

It’s Your Right to Report It

If you are ever in a situation at work where your boss or another employee is sexually harassing you, you should go straight to the person in charge and let him or her know what has been happening. If that person tells you that they can’t do anything to help you, then report it to the police or the EEOC (see sidebar). The police should file a report. This could get the person who didn’t help you in trouble.

People have gotten fired for reporting harassment, but that is illegal, and you should fight it. That’s not easy to do, but you’d know you did something good not only to help yourself but also to help others. You have the right to say something—it’s the law.

To learn how the law protects you from harassment and discrimination, read Your Rights at Work.

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(FCYU-2012-07-14)

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