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Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual Harassment at Work

Sylvia Ho | Monster Contributing Writer

January 27, 2010

A Monster user asks:

What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace? There was a situation in a firehouse where a female and male firefighters slept in the same room and also shared other facilities. This woman also was helped to get down from a fire truck after she asked for help, and she stated she was touched on the buttocks. These charges were held for almost a year until the man involved was put up for promotion. He was then terminated.

Gender Issues at the Workplace

The Employee Advocate answers:

Sexual harassment constitutes two different types of behavior. The first is when a supervisor asks a subordinate for sexual favors in return for retaining a job or being promoted or some other work-related decision. The asking does not have to be direct; it can be by implication. The second type is known as ‘hostile environment,’ which not only includes supervisors but also coworkers who create an environment filled with sexual inuendo, remarks and behavior so that it becomes hostile — which makes working in that environment difficult and impacts on the work of the person being harassed.

You should also be aware that even though employees may be terminated for ‘sexual harassment’ in the workplace, employees also are terminated for inappropriate behavior, such has unconsented touching of coworkers, consistent sexually charged remarks and other behavior that is either sexual or sexist. The actions may not rise to the legal definition of sexual harassment, but they may still be a reason for firing if the employer spots the employee as a potential problem for sexual harassment. So, it is possible that the man could have been fired for that reason as much as being found to have sexually harassed the female firefighter.

Sexual harassment is usually thoroughly investigated before action is taken and the confidentiality of the investigation prevents other employees from knowing the whole story. This is done to provide privacy for the accused and accuser. So, it is possible that you only have learned only a part of the entire story involved here.

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