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Why is sexual harassment still a problem at work?

Sexual harassment, which can be defined as anything from unwanted touching to lewd comments that cause discomfort, has been discouraged in workplaces for decades.

In an era when men and women work together for long hours, some boundaries have to be set. Sexual harassment is not only an attack on an employee's dignity, but it distracts from the purpose of being at work, which is to do one's job.

The problem is that in some organizations, sexual harassment policies are more honored in the breach than the observance.

One Woman Was Simply Told To Find A Different Job

According to the Washington Post, this was the experience of Arlancia Williams, an employee of the Washington D.C. Metro system who found herself subjected to unwanted hugs and disparaging remarks about her husband by her supervisor.

Even though she informed her boss that his behavior was making her uncomfortable, he escalated to making harassing phone calls. Her complaints to upper management got her reassigned to a less desirable shift, and she was advised that perhaps she should find another job, since she could not handle the stress of being harassed.

Williams sued, asking for $200,000 in damages and having Washington D.C. Metro reform its policies for dealing with harassment and discrimination.

The case is roughly similar to the well-reported instance at the Fox News Channel, when on-air personality Gretchen Carlson sued FNC and its then chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, complaining that Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances and then punished her when she rebuffed them.

The result was Ailes' separation from Fox News - plus a $20 million payout and an apology. She is reported to not be the only woman employee at FNC who was subjected to Ailes' approaches and who has received a settlement.

Businesses Need To Take This Much More Seriously

The lesson of these two accounts is that organizations have to take sexual harassment seriously. Otherwise, the courts are going to do so for them. A zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, especially when perpetrated by a supervisor to a subordinate, should be instituted. Clear guidelines have to be set as to what constitutes sexual harassment and what will be done about it.

This is only in the business's best interests, after all. Subjecting employees to harassment can result in subjecting the organization to an expensive lawsuit.

To learn more about employee rights in California, or what to do if you've been subjected to sexual harassment, talk with an attorney skilled in this area of law.

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