Sexual Harassment: Recognition and Prevention

If you think sexual harassment is not a concern for your business, consider these facts:

  • Businesses are fully liable for the actions of supervisors, who are considered representatives of your company.
  • 58% of American companies have reported at least one charge of sexual harassment.
  • An employee of a building materials manufacturer alleged she was fired for refusing to acquiesce to her supervisor's demands for sex; she was awarded $100,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
  • An auto manufacturer and a plant supervisor were fined $140,000 for the supervisor's acts of sexual harassment that included a promise of easy job assignments in return for sexual favors.

What exactly is Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, all of which become illegal when:

  • Submission to such conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or condition of employment.
  • Submission to or rejection of the suggested conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting the individual (e.g. assignments, promotions, pay raises, etc.).
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially and unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There are two types of sexual harassment – "quid pro quo" (this for that) and "hostile environment." Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor conditions the granting of an economic benefit upon the receipt of sexual favors from a subordinate or punishes a subordinate for refusing to submit to his/her request. A hostile work environment may include lewd jokes or comments, displaying explicit or sexually suggestive material, or repeated requests for a sexual or dating relationship. Where a coworker or non-employee is harassing, the dealership will be liable if it knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and corrective action. Sexual harassment does not only pertain to heterosexual situations. In 1998, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex harassment is prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Strategies to Reduce the Risk of Sexual Harassment

  1. Develop a policy which states that your company will not tolerate sexual harassment. Be sure there is a procedure for initiating complaints that encourages victims to come forward, protects confidentiality to the extent possible, and guards against retaliation. Ensure that complaints may be made to a member of management other than the immediate supervisor.
  2. Communicate company policy and procedure to all supervisory personnel and provide them with training regarding sexual harassment behaviors, liability, and appropriate response to complaints.
  3. Communicate company policy and procedure to all non-supervisory personnel via the employee handbook, memo, and/or small group meetings. Provide employees with training regarding their responsibility to assist in ensuring a workplace free of sexual harassment.
  4. If behavior is observed which is potentially harassing, take a proactive stance in preventing sexual harassment by addressing the behavior before you receive a complaint. Get explicit posters off the walls; discourage lewd remarks, etc.

Responding to a Complaint of Sexual Harassment

  1. Take the complaint seriously. Remember that there are no stereotypical recipients of sexual harassment and there are no stereotypical sexual harassers.
  2. Immediately conduct a thorough investigation, as confidentially as possible, in compliance with the company's procedure. You will want to interview the alleged recipient of the harassment, the alleged harasser, and any witnesses to the alleged behavior.
  3. Impose disciplinary action if warranted by the facts of the investigation.
  4. Document all conversations and any disciplinary actions.
  5. Follow up with the complainant quickly – preferably within three to five days-to give the outcome of the investigation.
  6. Follow up to ensure that the behavior has stopped and that there is no reprisal action.


SESCO Management Consultants is available for assistance should you have questions about this issue. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com.