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Sexual harassment in the workplace: What it includes

It is illegal for employers in New York and elsewhere in the country to perpetuate or tolerate sexual harassment. However, the conversation continues in Silicon Valley as more women step forward to share their personal accounts of having been sexually harassed at work. The Street, a financial news site, reports that the problem is at all levels of business and across all business sectors, from startups to tech powerhouses such as Alphabet Inc.

What started as a blog post launched an investigation into claims of sexual harassment by high- and mid-level managers at Uber Technologies Inc. The investigation eventually led to the firing of several managers and the resignation of the CEO.

Female employees at tech companies there are calling for reform. They are also laying the responsibility for stopping this mistreatment at the door of every manager in every company.

So just what constitutes sexual harassment? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes it as a type of sex discrimination that violates the Civil Rights Act. Because everyone understands words and meanings in different ways, the boundaries that define this type of harassment are described in broad strokes.

In simple terms, sexual harassment includes the following:

  • Unwelcome conduct, which includes words, gestures and physical contact
  • Harassment of a male or female made by another male or female; it does not have to occur with someone of the opposite sex
  • Conduct by anyone in the workplace, whether the harasser is a supervisor, colleague or the lunch lady who comes to sell sandwiches every day and is not even an employee
  • Conduct that is overseen or overheard by another, even though they are not the direct recipient
  • Offers of advancement in the company in exchange for sexual favors, or even the implication that the victim's job is on the line; it does not have to include threats of job loss or advancement to be considered sexual harassment

The establishment of a zero-tolerance policy and sexual harassment training can be effective tools for any business to use in preventing this type of discrimination. The policy should include a procedure for reporting instances, as well as steps to take if and when it occurs.


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