You may think, this will NEVER happen to me, I would never do that to another person or get myself in this type of situation. Allow me to share a quick story.
It was a usual day at work as a cashier, except my back was hurting since I was in my second trimester of pregnancy. During my break, my supervisor asked me to join her in the back-office meeting room to “chat about something.” I started getting nervous and scared, anticipating an unpleasant discussion. Once we sat down, Debbie shared that they received a complaint from one of my co-workers about unwelcome advance.
The post is to help you to understand the facts about sexual harassment laws in America, share high risk four employment scenarios, and how to get help. Learning the facts will help you to avoid sticky situations, get help if you need it, and stay safe while working in the U.S.
Sexual Harassment Definition.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) states that “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment”
- Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, including state, federal, local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations
- 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and assault in their lifetime in the U.S. (Credit: SSH)
- The victim/harasser could of any gender and victim does not have to be of the opposite sex
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, co-worker, or a customer
- The victim could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome (Credit: EEOC)
Next, let`s review four employment scenarios with a high risk of sexual harassment. The following content was inspired by the Institute for Women`s Policy Research “Sexual Harassment Brief” published in October 2018 (Credit: IWPR)
Working for tips
When your primary source of income is tips are far more likely to be sexually harassed. When your personality and your relationships impact your earnings, things get dicey. The same situation applies to low-income workers. Additionally, workers of the hotel, entertainment, and food service industries for tips appear to yield the highest risk of being sexually harassed.
- Waiters and hotel housekeepers accounted for nearly 14 percent of all harassment charged filed with EEOC in 2017.
- The study revealed that women restaurant workers who’re the primary source of income are tips are twice as likely to experience harassment by managers, co-workers, and customers as women servers who work for a stated hourly wage.
Sample of job titles include:
- Foodservice: waiter, banquet manager, servers, waiters, sommelier, bartender
- Hotel: Maître D, Hotel floor manager, butler, room service waiter, hotel room cleaner
- Travel: cruise steward, tour guide, ski instructor
- Transportation: Uber driver, taxi driver, pizza delivery driver, golf caddy, busboy
- Gambling: Casino host, gaming dealer, casino dealer
- Entertainment: Exotic dancer, stripper
Working in isolated jobs
Anytime your job takes you in places where you confined to a certain location, alone and have no witnesses; you are risking exposure to being harassed. This includes janitors, domestic care workers, hotel workers, agricultural workers, and home care personnel for the elderly. Isolation makes you more vulnerable and emboldens perpetrators to act.
- Frontline reported in 2015 that ABM (described as the largest employer of janitors) had 42 lawsuits brought against it in the previous two decades for allegations of workplace sexual harassment, assault, or rape (Yeung 2015).
- A National Domestic Workers Alliance and University of Chicago report found that 36 percent of live-in workers surveyed reported having been harassed, threatened, insulted or verbally abused in the previous 12 months
Lacking legal immigration status
Of course, it is very challenging when your employer has power over your income, but it is twice as hard when your employer also holds the keys to your immigration status by sponsoring your temporary work visa. It gets even worse if you work illegally and your employer knows that and covering up for you.
- Agriculture, food processing, food service, garment factories, housekeeping, and janitorial services are fields where many undocumented and immigrant workers can find jobs
- Victims of sexual violence at work who bring charges have the same protection against deportation as survivors of domestic violence through U-visas
- Immigrants are particularly at risk of sexual assault because of, among other things, their lack of familiarity with their legal rights, misinformation they may have about the U.S. legal system, lack of access to legal service providers, and language barrier issues
- Many workers fear that reporting harassment or assault will put their immigration status at risk
- Retaliation or threats against workers who speak up against workplace sexual assault is illegal.
Working in male-dominated or male-powered settings
When you work in male-dominated industries, occupations (when all of your co-workers are guys, and you are the only woman); or when you report to a very powerful male, such as when you are a female Ph.D. student, and your professor is a male; you are more likely to be harassed.
I personally worked in manufacturing and operations management for many years. Most of the time, the men to women ratio was 10:3 or less. In many cases, when I had business strips, I was the only female in a large team of guys. I learned early on; I must set clear boundaries and keep things very professional, avoid late outings, alcohol, confined spaces, be competent and confident, and wear very conservative clothing to be taken seriously.
- In a survey from the early 1990s, close to six in ten women working in construction report being touched or asked for sex
- A 2014 RAND study of sexual assault and harassment in the military estimated that 26 percent of active duty women had experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination
- A recent National Academy of Sciences study documented high levels of harassment of women faculty and staff in academia in science, engineering, and medicine (Credit: IWPR)
How to get help and report sexual harassment
- Document incidents. Start a personal journal, Include the names of everyone involved, what happened, where, and when it took place. Note If anyone else saw or heard the harassment. Be as specific as possible about what was said, done, and how it affected you, your health, or your job performance. Collect evidence, such as cards, notes, emails, pictures. Keep your journal and notes at home or in a safe place outside of work.
- Tell the harasser to stop. Clearly stating you want the offensive behavior, off-color jokes and comments to stop are very important. By doing so, you are setting boundaries and make it known that the behavior is unwelcome. Say “Joe, the joke you just shared make me uncomfortable, please do not share it again.” Do your best to say it while there are people around you two.
- Complain to the supervisor/manager. Communicate to your supervisor in writing. Type a short and to the point email to your supervisor, stating facts and allegations of the harassment. Ask to take action to stop the issue.
- Follow up with HR manager/company rep. If the issue persists and no one takes action, follow up with your HR manager, read company HR handbook to see what are your options, reporting channels. Very important if you do not discuss anything verbally with others, for now; everything you do must be in writing. All your documents will become legal claim paperwork later on. Save it, add yourself in the copy to all the email exchanges, in case you need access to all your work email communication at home.
- File a complaint with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Even if you from the beginning intent to pursue legal means against the perpetrator, you must file EEOC complaint first. File a complaint with EEOC
- Interview and Mediation. Within ten days of the filing date of your charge, we will send a notice of the charge to the employer. In some cases, we will ask both you and the employer to take part in our mediation program. Read more about what to expect after you file with EEOC here
You may wonder what happened to me, so let me put your mind at peace. At work, another female cashier grumbled because, during our conversation, I lightly touched her elbow. She did not like it, so she reported it. Debbie explained that while in Europe, it is acceptable to touch someone during a conversation, but not in the United States.
I recall coming come, crying, retelling my story over and over to my spouse, and even considering quitting the job, out of sheer shame. It was hard, but the time passed, and I moved on.
I shared this highly personal story about my work in the U.S. to empower your learning and to avoid complaints and troubles in the workplace and know what to do if you become are harassed or discriminated based on your gender in the workplace.
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