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Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace

Introduction

Nowadays, companies and individuals are becoming more concerned about occupational safety and employees’ rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, there are still many cases when workers are subject to sexual harassment, discrimination, or any other form of violence. It is hard to deny that such hazards may negatively influence the overall health condition of the workers. Therefore, it is necessary to study the possible consequences of such issues and develop ways to deal with them.

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What are Sexual Harassment and Discrimination?

It is necessary to understand what actions can be related to sexual harassment and discrimination. Sexual harassment is described as “any unwelcome sex-based conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment or that results in an adverse employment action” (Barreiro, 2018, p. 266). This illegal act may be done in relation to both men and women; in the majority of cases, the offenders are male (Barriero, 2018). There can be different forms of sexual harassment, ranging from impermissible jokes to rape.

It is believed that sexual harassment is a type of broader offense, discrimination. The latter is defined as the “mistreatment of an employee because of that employee’s race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, or other characteristic protected by law” (England, 2018, p.3). The forms of discrimination include disparate treatment, disparate impact, failure to accommodate an employee, and other aspects (England, 2018). The offense should be evident in the case if the victim wants to report this illegal action.

Sexual Harassment: Health Effects

Victims of sexual harassment may suffer long-term and short-term health effects connected with their physical and mental condition. Regardless of circumstances, sexual assault may cause deterioration of overall sexual health. In the most severe cases, it leads to malfunctions in the reproductive system, for example, adverse pregnancy outcomes, chronic pains, pelvic inflammatory diseases, and other gynecological issues (Clark, 2017). Other physical conditions include headaches, seizures, pain in the back, and skin disorders.

Sociological studies also demonstrate that the issue leads to a high level of depression and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological signs of distress include “distraction from the task, dread to work, and inability to work” (Conte, 2019, p. 63). Other conditions are sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, angina, fatigue, general anxiety, and a sense of uncertainty, which may also take place (Conte, 2019). Sexual harassment does not only have direct mental and physical effects but also influences the victim’s typical behavior and attitudes. For example, a woman may become unable to trust men and can experience difficulties in communication with her male coworkers.

Discrimination: Health Effects

Regardless of whether the act included physical harm, discrimination also leads to negative health consequences. Such health outcomes may be mediated by “stress-related mechanisms and an exposure to hazards” (Major, Dovidio, & Link, 2018, p. 126). The body of an individual reacts to threat by activating the “sympathetic nervous system,” which prepares the body for possible mobilization (Major et al. 2018, p. 126). Constant stress is a reason for the prolonged release of cortisol and corticosteroid, which may weaken the immune system, cause inflammatory responses, cardiovascular conditions, and psychological distress (Major et al. 2018). Discrimination in the workplace can also be perceived as a threat, and therefore, may lead to the conditions mentioned above.

Other health effects are connected with the ways of coping with discrimination. Stress is often followed by excessive smoking, drinking, drug use, unhealthy eating habits; healthy practices like exercising, become less frequent. Coping is also connected with short-term hazards, such as physical injuries, and long-term consequences, like diabetes, cancer, and high mortality rates (Major et al. 2018). These issues prove that discrimination can seriously affect people’s life habits and overall health conditions.

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Mitigation Strategies and Laws

Researchers emphasize the importance of creating harassment prevention policies that would prevent negative incidents. Special programs focus on determining possible workplace hazards and defining measures for their prevention and control. Managers and supervisors are responsible for setting an example of proper workplace behavior and not violating safety rules and practices (Perez, 2019). They should constantly control the overall situation in the workplace to eliminate possible hazards in time.

In general, the measures of mitigating sexual harassment and discrimination are based on corresponding legislation. According to England (2018), it is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers when “hiring, creating or applying policies, training, promoting, firing or laying off employees with regard to any other terms and conditions of employment” (p. 13). In America, there are acts and laws on the state and federal levels, issued to control such cases. These include, for example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (England, 2018). Such acts may refer to different kinds of discrimination, as well as address general regulations applied to the issue.

As sexual harassment can be considered a form of discrimination, the regulations concerning this issue can be found in the documents mentioned above. For example, Title VII includes information about what is considered sexual harassment, and what its legal consequences may be. England (2018) emphasizes that not all cases may lead to lawsuits. For example, in the case of discrimination, there should be clear evidence that a worker was mistreated.

Safe Work Practices: Challenges and Solutions

To provide safe work conditions for employees, companies need to share their safe work practices with workers and between organizations. Such methods include establishing the company’s regulations and informing employees about safe work rules. The policies and procedures should be explained in detail and strictly followed by both employer and employee (Conte, 2019). Moreover, constant communication between management and staff is a way to control the social environment among workers.

Sometimes, victims themselves organize demonstrations and movements to draw public attention to the issues of harassment and discrimination and to emphasize the importance of safe work conditions. There is a recent example of addressing the problem. In 2017, many sexually harassed women around the world established the “Me Too” movement to speak out and share their experiences (Harris & Morris, 2018, p. 6). Therefore, problems can be addressed both with the help of mass demonstrations and on the individual level, through complaints.

Unfortunately, in some cases, victims hesitate to complain about harassment and discrimination. Reporting such acts is always humiliating; moreover, workers may think that their attempts would be futile. Such incidents threaten companies’ prestige and budget, and many cases remain ignored. Complaints are often followed by hostility, more severe harassment, or other forms of retaliation and discharge (Conte, 2019). To avoid such situations, organizations need to make sure that their workers are aware of their rights in the workplace, and that the overall situation in the company is free of such hazards.

Conclusion

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are important modern problems. They do not only lead to health deterioration but also influence an individual’s habits and attitudes. Therefore, companies need to pay proper attention to their working environment. Strict rules and principles should be created to prevent and control the situation. Moreover, employees should be instructed and aware of their rights in the workplace.

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References

Barreiro, S. (Ed.). (2018). Your rights in the workplace (11th ed.). Berkeley, CA: Nolo.

Clark, J.N. (2017). Rape, sexual violence and transitional justice challenges: Lessons from Bosnia Herzegovina. New York, NY: Routledge.

Conte, A. (2019). Sexual harassment in the workplace: Law & practice (5th ed.) New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer.

England, D.S. (2018). The essential guide to handling workplace harassment & discrimination (4th ed.). A. Loftsgordon (Ed.). Berkeley, CA.

Harris, D., & Morris, R. (2018). The silence breakers and the #metoo movement. North Mankato, MO: ABDO.

Major, B., John F. Dovidio, J.F., & Link, B.G. (Eds.). (2018). The Oxford handbook of stigma, discrimination, and health. New York, NY, Oxford University Press.

Perez, P. (2019). The drama-free workplace: How you can prevent unconscious bias, sexual harassment, ethics lapses, and inspire a healthy culture. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, February 5). Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/sexual-harassment-and-discrimination-in-the-workplace/

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace." February 5, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/sexual-harassment-and-discrimination-in-the-workplace/.

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