Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Knowing what constitutes harassment that is sexual in nature in the workplace and the impact it has on the employees and the organization are crucial to understanding its prevention.  Sexual harassment doesn’t just affect women although they are the group representing the highest levels of sexual harassment in the workplace with 80% experiencing some form of it during their careers with 37% of men being harassed.  Sexual harassment along with all forms of harassment have a negative impact on the working environment of the organization as well as the emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing of the victims.  Several high-profile cases in recent years have highlighted just the financial impact to the offenders and the organizations they work for as agents of that company.  Preventing harassment at work needs to be the focus to creating a comfortable work environment.  Clearly defined policies and procedures identifying what is deemed harassment, the consequences to the offender and establishing a zero-tolerance policy have shown to be effective in reducing workplace harassment.  There is no one solution to fixing this problem but encouraging reporting of instances from both the victim as well as from witnesses will enforce the idea that these actions will not be tolerated by anyone, from the lowest employee to the highest. 

Sexual harassment can occur in many different settings, home, school, church, special clubs and groups, and in the workplace.  Victims and harassers can be of any gender, male or female and does not necessarily involve the opposite sex and is often perpetuated by a person of power and includes actions that can range from mild transgressions to sexual assault and abuse.  There are laws in the United States that state sexual harassment, in most contexts, is illegal however, instances of minor teasing, one-off inappropriate comments or one-off incidents are not considered illegal or covered by these laws.  When it comes to the workplace, sexual harassment is usually considered illegal and against company policy when it is frequent, severe, is offensive, has a negative impact on an employee’s standing with the company, and/or creates a hostile work environment for the victim.  Harassment in the workplace is also considered a form of employment discrimination and is illegal under the Equal Employment and Opportunity Act of 1972 while sexual harassment is outlined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and applies to most private and public organizations of 15 or more employees or members.  Even with laws, regulations, and corporate policies designed to eliminate sexual harassment, it continues to be ever present.  79% of all workplace sexual harassment victims are women with 21% being men with 51% of the total number of employees being harassed were done so by a supervisor with 12% of those being threatened with termination if they fail to comply with the harassment.  While sexual harassment is recognized in all types of businesses and industries, banking, business, and finance provide the most instances of sexual harassment.  Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace has become a major goal of every U. S. company, domestically and abroad through training programs and bringing awareness to the behaviors that constitute sexual harassment.

According to the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature” when the “conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” (USEEOC).  Under the EEOC guidelines, harassment comes in all forms, not just of a sexual nature.  Other forms of harassment include remarks made that may be offensive in nature about a person’s sex, gender, or identity.  Additionally, the accuser and the offender can be of the same or different sex or any combination thereof.  The key point to remember is harassment of any kind becomes illegal once it becomes unwelcomed and unwanted and is pervasive or severe to the point the harasser’s conduct makes you uncomfortable and uneasy.  Sexual harassment can either be sexual in nature or based on sex and be delivered verbally, physically, non-verbally or visually in a sexual nature.  Verbal harassment can be commenting on someone’s body, clothing, behavior, and personal relationships, making jokes of a sexual nature or sexual innuendos, requesting favors of a sexual nature, gossiping and spreading rumors about someone’s personal life or sexual activity, or verbally threatening someone for turning down sexual advances.  Physical harassment covers the act of blocking someone’s movement, inappropriate or unwelcomed touching of a person, or by forced contact such as kissing, caressing, or hugging.  Non-verbal and visual harassment is eyeing someone’s body up and down, making obscene gestures, stalking, and displaying or sharing of material that is of a sexual nature.

he #MeToo movement has increased the public visibility of sexual harassment and assault on employees at work and the emotional, physical, and psychological effects it has on all involved but sexual harassment and assault in the workplace continues to be a widespread concern with research suggesting that up to 80% of women and 37% of men experience some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.  Sexual harassment and assault present serious consequences for the accuser, the accused and the organization where the harassment took place.  In cases where the accuser is female, they tend to experience mental and physical health problems, interrupts their careers, lowers their earning potential, and can discourage women from attempting to advance their careers into higher positions and negatively impacts any progression made to narrow the gender pay gap (Chatterjee). 

For men, sexual harassment tends to begin during their adolescents and increasing into their college years.  Little is known of the impact of sexual harassment on men due to many cases going unreported due to the stigma associated with being a victim of sexual harassment and the embarrassment or feeling of being a lesser man for reporting such actions and the potential for perceptual differences in what constitutes sexual harassment between men and women (Bailey). 

The impact to the organization comes in the form of high legal costs defending themselves and/or their agents against claims of sexual harassment, higher employee turnover rates as less people want to work for an organization that has an issue with sexual harassment, increased absenteeism among employees as they attempt to remove themselves from the situation which then reduces the production capabilities and revenue generation, and the harm to the organizations reputation as fewer people will want to work for an organization where these actions occur regardless of whether they are proven or not.

While all industries, organizations, and work environments can have issues with sexual harassment and assault, several types of environments present higher claims of inappropriate sexual behavior.  These are industries where employees receive tips such as restaurants and bars, industries where employees work in isolated areas such as hotels employees and janitors, industries where employees lack legal immigration status are have work visas such as in agricultural fields and clothing factories, and industries that are dominated by men such as banking and finance.  Each of these fields have higher than average claims of sexual harassment and assault and extra care should be given to ensure these actions don’t happen.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

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We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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