Recent New York state law requires employers to adopt sexual harassment prevention and training policies, effectively ending any employee's ability to hide behind the excuse that they were not aware a certain behavior is considered harassment.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment has long been a part of the work environment. Social media movements and recent news stories have helped bring national attention to this very serious and concerning issue. Specifically, the "#MeToo" movement has opened the eyes of many to the issue of sexual harassment that has been brewing in every workplace for decades. As a manager, it is incredibly important to have the ability to identify harassing behaviors so they can quickly be stopped.
Would you be able to recognize some of the most common types of harassment in the workplace? More importantly, are you providing the proper workplace sexual harassment training to your employees so that they can do the same?
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
Quid pro quo harassment is harassment perpetrated by someone in authority, usually a supervisor or manager. The supervisor hints at or explicitly requests sexual payment for some sort of employment benefit. Benefits can include:
- Financial compensation, such as a raise or bonus
- Recognition, such as awards or public praise
- Perks like a new office or company travel
- Preferred shifts or hours
- Promises of any of the above
In other situations, the supervisor threatens negative consequences for a failure to agree to a sexual activity. Common consequences are:
- Loss of consideration for a promotion or raise
- Loss of pay or benefits
- Undesirable shifts or hours
- Threats of any of the above
Both men and women can be victims of quid pro quo harassment, and both men and women can harass others. Although the benefits or losses may differ, one factor must be present in order to be considered quid pro quo harassment: a person in a position of power over another, abusing that power to gain sexual access.
Hostile Workplace Harassment
Unlike quid pro quo harassment, hostile workplace harassment does not need to involve an authority figure. In fact, anyone can be subject to hostile workplace harassment, since there is no benefit offered by the harasser. Both men and women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals, can be victims of hostile workplace harassment; likewise, men and women and anybody else can perpetrate hostile workplace harassment.
Common sources of workplace sexual harassment include:
- Repeated, unwanted advances, such as asking for dates or sexual contact
- Repeated telling of sexually explicit stories or jokes
- Sexually-based, derogatory insults or comments about a person
- Any of the above in written form, such as notes, memos, emails, or text messages
- Sexual imagery, such as cartoons, photos, and videos
- Unwanted sexual touch
It is important to note that both types of sexual harassment are still harassment even if the perpetrator does not view them that way. If the victim feels harassment took place and is able to prove the behavior violated company sexual harassment policy, the perpetrator’s belief that their actions were innocent is likely irrelevant. If no such policy is in place, the victim must demonstrate that a reasonable person in the same situation would be upset by the same behavior.
What If You Identify Workplace Sexual Harassment?
According to New York state law, every employer must establish a sexual harassment prevention policy, provide employees with a copy of the policy, and provide training regarding its guidelines. If you are an employee that has been harassed, consult your policy for instructions on reporting the incident. If no such policy exists, report the lack of policy as well as the incident to your HR representative.
If you are an employer and an employee has come to you regarding a sexual harassment incident, be sure to strictly follow the outline of your policy. Adhering to policy not only protects you from reprisal but also ensures your employee receives a timely response based on the workplace sexual harassment training you’ve provided.
One great option for New York state employers is ProKnowledge Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. ProKnowledge, in partnership with KnowledgeWave, provides online training that meets the requirements set forth in Section 201-g of the New York State Labor Law, which requires employers to provide training to their employees.