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Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in most countries, including the U.S., Canada, Europe and England. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in the U.S. defines sexual harassment to “include unwelcome sexual advances, requests of sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. The harasser may be a woman or a man and not necessarily of the opposite sex to the person being harassed.
Vulgar jokes, suggestive remarks or gestures, and unwanted intimate touching of any type, such as hugging, kissing, patting or stroking, are examples of sexual harassment. Calling or e-mailing a fellow employee to pursue an unwanted romantic relationship is another example of sexual harassment. So too is making verbal comments about someone’s physical appearance with sexual overtones or staring at a person’s physique.
Some organizations have adopted a zero-tolerance or “one strike and you’re out” policy for dealing with instances of sexual harassment. If you are ever fired for sexual harassment, this will probably impede your future career.
If you receive an unwanted sexual advance from a business or office associate, you have to cut off any type of this behavior immediately. If you do not address this situation right away, your inaction may be misinterpreted as encouraging the other person to go further. Firmly say, “Look, I don’t think it’s a good idea for either of us to get into this situation” or “I am not interested in you in that way.” The next day act as if nothing occurred. Also, refrain from gossiping about what happened with others.
In addition, if you as a male supervisor or manager are meeting in an office alone with a female associate, as a general rule leave the door open to avoid any semblance of impropriety. Never crowd the personal space of someone you’re meeting with. Plus, refrain from acting in an overly friendly manner towards others in a business situation as that can be easily misunderstood.
After any incident of sexual harassment, record the details of what happened, including the date, time, witnesses present, what each person said or did, and how you felt emotionally and physically. If such inappropriate behavior continues, carefully consider your alternatives including discussing the situation with your organization’s human resources department, which should treat it in a confidential manner and help you resolve the problem. Another option is to confidentially contact either the Human Rights Commission in Canada or the EEOC in the U.S. for advice on how to handle the situation, including possibly filing a formal complaint or grievance and seeking legal counsel. This also applies to any harassment based on race, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or mental and physical disability.
While sexual harassment is unacceptable in any situation and you deserve to be treated in a respectful manner, be aware that making a formal complaint may not result in a satisfactory outcome for you. If no one is prepared to take action to end such sexual harassment, you are likely better off to request a transfer or seek employment elsewhere.
Appendix 1. Personal Worksheet Sample
Appendix 2. Résumé Sample
Appendix 3. Covering Letter Sample
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