Sexual harassment has become a prevalent and important issue in the workplace. It is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, the conduct of a sexual nature, or solicitation of sexual favors that are inappropriate, intimidating, or make the victim feel uncomfortable. There is a broad range of examples for sexual harassment, ranging from physical touching to suggestive jokes (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.). In the workplace, sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as part of sex-based employment discrimination. It is regulated by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) federal agency that administers guidelines based on this law (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.). The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, Section 760.01, is the local state law regulating discriminatory employment practices. It is based on federal law and places liability on individual employees who engage in sexual harassment (Mavrick Law Firm, 2017).
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A recent high-profile sexual harassment case discussed in the media is regarding the award-winning and famous actor Kevin Spacey. He was initially accused of inappropriate behavior by a fellow actor Anthony Rapp during a discussion of an incident that occurred more than 30 years ago when Rapp was just 14. Soon after, other accusations of sexual harassment and overall inadequate behavior began to emerge from other places and productions where Spacey acted. This resulted in the actor being dropped from several high-profile films and television series (Codrea-Rado, 2017).
Widespread media coverage of sexual harassment has its drawbacks and benefits. On the one hand, it could create biased perceptions and the possibility of false allegations. This goes against the principle of the justice system of innocence until proven guilty and can potentially destroy someone’s career even if allegations prove to be inaccurate. However, the media is also influential in creating the necessary discussion to facilitate societal change. Sexual harassment has been a taboo topic that has been suppressed by the abusers of power (INSPQ, n.d.). Media coverage helps to give a voice to the victims. Allegations of sexual harassment should be discussed privately within the matter of the law and organizational policies. However, if that process is unsuccessful due to the abuse of power or incompetency, then media coverage should be used as a tool to instigate justice.
From an ethical and legal standpoint, both the accuser and the accused should be protected by the business during an ongoing investigation. This is done to protect these individuals from retaliatory measures by fellow co-workers or third parties. Furthermore, it helps to conduct the investigation without interference and possible tampering with witnesses or evidence. The investigation should be impartial (Society for Human Resource Management, 2018). Since federal and state law regulates sexual harassment, it is likely that, if the accusation warrants, the case could go to a legal trial after the in-house investigation and follow-up action. Both the accuser and the accused could file lawsuits against the company as well for various reasons. In cases of widespread media coverage, for legal purposes, companies usually indicate that an investigation is ongoing. Afterward, the action taken against the accused is briefly discussed (such as dismissal). However, for privacy and legal reasons, details are kept private by the business itself.
In a sole proprietorship, the owner will be liable for any sexual harassment claim against the business, and it will be open to a lawsuit. Meanwhile, in a corporation, the process is much more complicated, and responsibility usually lies with the individual employee committing the offense. If the corporation took reasonable measures, particularly against instances of quid pro quo harassment, then the employer will not be liable. Business can implement various techniques to prevent sexual harassment. First, leadership needs to be aware of these guidelines and pass them down the corporate ladder through both directives and exemplary behavior. Furthermore, the company should maintain a zero-tolerance policy on harassment, and it should be included in performance expectations. Finally, a safe reporting mechanism should exist to allow transparency and to prevent retaliatory measures (Lipman, 2017). Overall, a general anti-harassment company culture should be promoted.
Australian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Sexual harassment in the workplace – The legal definition of sexual harassment. Web.
Codrea-Rado, A. (2017). Kevin Spacey to seek treatment as sexual accusations grow. The New York Times. Web.
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INSPQ. (n.d.). Sexual assault and the media. Web.
Lipman, V. (2017). 3 steps companies can take to prevent sexual harassment. Forbes. Web.
Mavrick Law Firm. (2017). Florida employment law: Sexual harassment under the Florida Civil Rights Act. Web.
Society for Human Resource Management. (2018). Sexual harassment policy and complaint/investigation procedure. Web.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Facts about sexual harassment. Web.