Sexual Harrassment

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by Phil Yacuboski

Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Charlie Rose. Mario Batali. Russell Simmons. Al Franken.

While the list continues to grow, many companies and organizations might be studying their policies on how to handle claims of sexual harassment and reevaluating training sessions for employees.

“Most companies do have policies and in those policies you do have to define the two basic categories of sexual harassment,” said Dr. Marc Marchese, a professor of Human Resources Management and King’s College.

He said one type is ‘quid pro quo,’ where a person uses their power for sexual purposes.

“If you want to keep your job or if you want a raise, then you have to perform some type of sexual activity,” he said. “It’s an abuse of power, by taking advantage of their position as president or chief executive.”

However, he said the one that is more common in the workplace is a hostile environment.

“This is where people do things that are inappropriate in the workplace that other people find offensive,” he said. “Even though there might not be any ulterior motives, they do things of a sexual nature that make other people uncomfortable. They feel intimidated and unwelcome. Simply put, they find it hostile.”

He said the instances of national sexual harassment and assault allegations being brought to the forefront are good for the workplace.

“This definitely got us thinking about it again,” he said. “And it is okay to come forward because I think there’s always a concern about saying something. If you come forward, you have a voice,” adding that women who are victims are often intimidated into staying silent.

The National Women’s Law Center says few victims of sexual harassment make a formal complaint — 70 to 90 percent choose not to, according to surveys done by the nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights.

“The ones that we hear about in the news are tough to hear about, because these people have a lot of authority in those organizations and they have so much power,” he said.

He said typically, companies will differentiate those policies and explain them to their employees to let them know that people can commit sexual harassment.

“I think we are seeing a lot of companies reminding people of the policies,” said Dr. Marchese. “It’s recommended practice that these refresher courses should be done on a regular basis. Just to remind people that this is what the policy is and these are the different forms of harassment and this is what you’re supposed to do if it happens to you.”

“There needs to be clear and well-defined policies in place that employees and management can follow,” said James McAndrew, with Dehey McAndrew an employee benefit and human resources firm in Scranton. The company has been in business for 30 years.

He said his firm often acts as a third-party investigator when there are claims of sexual harassment as well as offering outsourced human resources services.

McAndrew said managers and supervisors must be able to deal with a situation, whether or not a formal complaint is filed.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission urges people to file claims within a 180 day window from when it happens.

“An employer will often want to bring a third person in who is unbiased or unaffiliated with the employees or the employers or its day-to-day operations,” said McAndrew. “We will research, investigate and talk to anybody who is affected with the complaint including live meetings with each of the people involved.”

McAndrew said they will make recommendations as to their findings, including whether an employee should be fired.

Dr. Marchese said many instances of sexual harassment can be handled without a lawyer and internally through the human resources department. He also recommended a third party be present.

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