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Sexual harassment has turned the workplace into a hazardous place to be. It is becoming a place where an innocent remark can threaten a perfectly good career. It’s not like the old days when a kiss was just a kiss, a wink just a wink, or a joke just a joke. No longer will these innocent gestures be acceptable in the workplace, unless you want to risk winding up before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on a charge of violating Title Seven of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination in hiring on the basis of race, sex, creed, religion or country of origin. Following the Clarance Thomas and Bob Packwood cases, sexual harassment cases have multiplied enormously. In 1990 the EEOC handled 6,127 complaints, by 1993 the annual total had almost doubled to 11,908. Sexual harassment laws must be cleared up, because peoples lives are being changed in negative ways.
What is sexual harassment ? There are really two definitions: the common sense/behavioral definition or the guidelines set by the EEOC and the courts. The common-sense or behavioral definition of sexual harassment is a “deliberate and/or repeated sexual or sex-based behavior that is not welcome, not asked for, and not returned”. The EEOC guidelines state that unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature become illegal when connected to a manager’s or supervisor’s decision regarding hiring, firing, pay, promotion, job assignment, or other aspect of employment, or when such behavior interferes with an employee’s ability to perform work or creates a hostile, offensive work environment (Sexual Harassment, Meyer, M, (1981)).
In many cases sexual harassment is clearly evident. Take for example, the case against Hooters Restaurants. Women that work there were required to wear a tight fitting T’shirt that had “HOOTERS” written across the chest area (Newsweek, 1993). Another case of sexual harassment was the case where the woman’s male boss said things like “Let’s go to the Holiday Inn to negotiate your raise”, or “you are just a dumb-ass woman”. This guy also asked the women employees to put their hands in his pants pockets to retrieve change (New Republic, 1993). These cases are clear examples of what sexual harassment is.
In other cases though, sexual harassment is not really evident or it hasn’t really been proven. Yet, decisions are being made and heavy punishments enforced. There was a recent case in Rhode Island, where a woman sued her former attorney/lover for $225,000. She claimed that he had forced her into having sexual relations with him. the problem with this particular case is that she had intercourse with this man about 200 times over an 18 month span. They had even discussed marriage (Mens Health, 1994). She had no grounds for harassment because she dated and even considered marrying this man. She was just upset that he broke things off with her. Another case that shows no reasons for harassment charges was the case of the graduate student at the University of Nebraska, who was reprimanded by his department head after complaints from female coworkers who said he was creating a hostile work environment. He committed harassment because he had a 5×7 photo of his “wife” wearing a bikini in his office (Mens Health, 1994). How can this cause a hostile environment when the picture is of his own wife. The picture was not of any of his coworkers and doesn’t show some naked model? It has no demeaning sentences about women. It is a picture of his wife and it is displayed in his private office.
Anything that changes peoples lives in negative ways must be cleared up. Sexual harassment laws must be clearly defined and enforced with more common sense. In a time where women are becoming more and more work orientated, sexual harassment charges are growing rapidly. Is this the battle of the sexes or merely women becoming more sexually appealing to men through improved cosmetics and changing wardrobes? Well, whatever it is, we must find a way to stop these harassment charges and learn to cope with all the changes. People are loosing money and public trust because of these charges. Sexual harassment charges are ruining good careers and lives. There must be strict laws regarding sexual harassment but common sense should be used in enforcing these laws. People also need to use a little more common sense in the way they present themselves at work.
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