The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is closely tied to issues of professionalism in the workplace. It is advisable for supervisors who must deal with issues of sexual harassment in the work lace to understand that the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace is grounded, not only in issues of personal morality or personality strategies, but in the consideration of professional behavior which extends throughout not only the work-force side of business production, but to the product and sales side as well.
Professionalism in business is closely connected to the ethics of personal conduct. One concern is whether “professionalism and morality have nothing to do with one another, ” (Kultgen,1998, p. 3). Fine distinctions aside, it seems clear that ethics and professionalism are merged and that the drive toward professionalism is needed: “professionalism is a vital influence in the lives of not only professionals but workers in other occupations, and normatively the professional imperative is categorical: Everyone should do his or her work as professionally as possible,” (Kultgen, 1998, p. 56).
So, in dealing with a complaint of sexual harassment a supervisor should be well-aware that the implications of such a claim are both serious and far-reaching. This means embracing a thorough understanding of the laws which govern sexual harassment in the workplace and the interpretations of these laws by the courts. The existence of sexual harassment in the workplace, if verified through official investigation, will cast dispersions not only on the supervisor directly responsible for the employees involved, but on the professional ‘matrix” of a given company as a whole.
The idea of sex as a determinant factor was not the original impulse behind the legislation which now protects workers from sexual harassment in the workplace; in fact, it was a tactically-driven afterthought to the legislation, put in by those who wishes the legislation to fail, rather than succeed, included: “in an effort to defeat the passage of the law” (Crouch, 2001, p. 38); as such, the laws were not clearly defined by the legislation itself, and this fact has true repercussions for supervisors who must interpret claims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The lack of specific, quantitative definitions of ‘sexual harassment” and the ensuing policies in the legislation itself allowed for wide interpretation by individual courts: a result, little guidance was provided the courts by Congress regarding just what the act was intended to prohibit. 5 The activism of feminists and the creation of the National Organization for Women (NOW) helped to change this. The first influential sex discrimination cases concerned discriminatory policies, such as sex-classified help- wanted advertisements, 7 weight-lifting requirements, 8 height and weight standards applied only to one gender, 9 discriminatory job assignment and transfer, 10 different hours of employment based on gender, 11 “fringe benefits,” 12 discriminating against females because they are married 13 or pregnant, 14 and forbidding employment of married women but not of married men. 15 (Crouch, 2001, p. 8) Given the inherent ambiguity of the legislation and the latent capacity for wide-reaching interpretations by the courts, it behooves any supervisor to treat any claim of sexual harassment with both urgency and attention to detail.
In fact, the laws governing sexual harassment in the workplace have been widely interpreted to include: “quid pro quo sexual harassment” which is the existence of “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . hen (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual,” (Achampong, 1999, p. 17) so the possible definition of sexual harassment in the workplace is broad enough that any but an obviously fraudulent claim must be taken seriously and acted upon according to official protocol by the supervisor in question immediately.
Some things to keep in mind: claims of sexual harassment in the workplace are protected by Federal law and “The charge and any information produced by its investigation are confidential, and may not be used in subsequent litigation” (Achampong, 1999, p. 74); also, alacrity of action is indicated by the fact that “A reasonable cause determination must be made within 120 days of the charge,” (Achampong, 1999, p. 74) .
Similarly, an official protocol exists for the specific method and manner by which a claim of sexual harassment in the workplace must be lodged; the “aggrieved person, or any person, agency, or organization acting on her behalf, may file a charge alleging sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. The charge must be written, signed, and verified,” (Achampong, 1999, p. 75). The follow-through of the investigation must not be viewed as having been corrupted, delayed, or in any way compromised by the supervisory element in relation to the charge.
A supervisor confronted with a charge of sexual harassment in the workplace must first: act on the basis of professionalism, and according to the company protocols and Federal laws which concern sexual harassment in the workplace, and must move with swift determination to set the investigative wheels in motion while all the while maintaining a professional and impersonal point of view regarding the allegations.
Allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace should be viewed as any other violation of professional business standards and acted on as thoroughly and as conclusively as those failings or problems which relate to production or service representation in business.