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HUMAN RESOURCES

What Are You Doing About Sexual Harassment?

FaxPoll results on questions of sexual harassment.
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Sexual Harassment?

Surprisingly little, it seems.

Is sexual harassment a major problem in this country?
YES 59%

NO 41%

How extensive a problem is sexual harassment in your company?
Not at all a problem 58%

Minor problem 30%

Significant problem 10%

Major problem 2%

Does your company have a sexual-harassment policy?
Yes, we have a specific policy 45%

No, we haven't even thought about it 34%

No, we're just starting to think about it 17%

No, but we're writing a policy 5%

If yes, which of the following best characterize your policy?
Promptly investigate every complaint 24%

Have held meetings to discuss it 22%

Take appropriate action swiftly 22%

Haven't publicized it well 10%

Designated ombudsman to receive

complaints 9%

Conduct ongoing educational sessions 6%

Most respondents think sexual harassment is a major problem in this country. Not surprisingly, women (82%) were more likely than men (43%) to say it was a problem. (Overall, 60% of respondents were men and 40% were women.) Attitudes also varied with age and position in the company. Younger respondents and those further down the ladder were more likely to say it was a problem. Most do not feel harassment is a significant issue in their company. Only 42% categorize it as even a minor problem. Some of you accused us of making a mountain out of a molehill. "Don't we have something more important to worry about?" one asked. "Women should not dress up as if they are trying to get everyone's attention," complained another. Others were more sympathetic: "As men, we can't even imagine the constant insinuations that surround women in the workplace."

Large companies (with more than 100 employees, 83%) were more likely than small companies (6 to 10 employees, 25%) to have a policy. They are also more likely to have been sued. And 50% of those that were sued had to pay damages, in some cases more than $100,000. But does that mean small companies don't need a policy? More than a third of you haven't even thought about it. Some have an it-can't-happen-here attitude: "We work so hard that sexual harassment is impossible." And there are those who feel their corporate culture precludes the possibility: "We respect one another enough that this will not be a problem." Others feel immune: "As a woman, I will not tolerate harassment." Still, regardless of your company size, culture, or male/female ratio, you can and should prevent problems by letting everyone know with a specific policy exactly what's acceptable and what isn't -- and even that is no guarantee. One respondent says his company's policy is "laughed at, unless you raise hell and hire a top-gun lawyer." -- Christopher Caggiano

You may feel that in a small company you can keep an eye on everything and stop any problems in their tracks. But do you know harassment when you see it? When this poll appeared, we printed these two scenarios, which are based on actual court cases, and asked you to tell us whether you thought they constituted sexual harassment:

A. A male mechanic is assigned to provide on-the-job training for a female mechanic. Although friendly, he asks her out for drinks after work and propositions her. He winks at her and suggests she give him a rubdown. She asks for work advice, and while he does give it, he often asks, "What will I get for it?" Another mechanic slaps her on the buttocks, and a third suggests that he thinks she must moan and groan while having sex.

Yes, this is harassment 98%

No, this isn't harassment 2%

Virtually everybody thought this was harassment. The court, however, did not. The advice was not withheld from the woman because of her refusal to "give something" in return. There was no indication that any of the offensive conduct was repeated or relentless. The courts found that the situation, while annoying, was not harassment. Note that this case was decided in 1986. More recently, the focus has been on what the alleged victim felt in the situation, not what the alleged harasser intended.

B. A female lawyer works at an office where consensual sex between certain male lawyers and female subordinates is a matter of public knowledge. She claims that the sexual relationships in the office result in the subordinates' career advancement and create a hostile work environment that undermines her performance. Two overtures have been directed at her personally: a repeated offer of a ride home by one lawyer; being kissed at a party by another. But neither involved a stated or implied quid pro quo, and neither was the cause of her complaint.

Yes, this is harassment 48%

No, this isn't harassment 52%

The court said that when employees who submit to sexual advances get preferential treatment, and it's a matter of public knowledge, that is harassment. The Equal Employment Oppor-tunity Commission says harassment comprises "unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."

Note: Multiple responses account for total percentages above 100% n

Last updated: Aug 1, 1992




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