ERIC Identifier: ED429188
Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Brown, Bettina Lankard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Sexual Harassment Interventions. ERIC Digest No. 206.
Sexual harassment affects people of all ages and races and of both sexes.
Although it has been outlawed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
and prohibited under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, many
companies and schools have yet to develop adequate policies and procedures for
addressing sexual harassment. Evidence of this is apparent in the increased
number of grievances filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC): from 10,532 filings in 1993 to 15,889 in 1997 (Ganzel 1998). The Supreme
Court rulings in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries v.
Ellerth are an attempt to halt these incidents by requiring harassed employees
to work within their companies to resolve grievances before turning to the EEOC.
They place responsibility on the employer to set guidelines for preventing
sexual harassment and on the employee to follow them (Barrier 1998).
This Digest examines the implications of federal laws covering sexual
harassment, the characteristics of company policies and grievance procedures to
prevent and report sexual harassment, and program strategies for preventing
sexual harassment in schools and workplaces.
WHAT INSTITUTIONS CAN DO
The Supreme Court's recent rulings
are motivating employers to take actions that reflect their compliance with
federal laws as protection against sexual harassment litigation. Emerging from
the literature on sexual harassment prevention are three key steps that
employers can take to counter sexual harassment (Kimble-Ellis 1998; "Protecting
Develop a strong company policy that specifies in writing outlawed behaviors and
penalties for their demonstration
Establish grievance procedures for reporting, processing, and resolving
Provide sexual harassment training for supervisors, managers, and workers that
explains what sexual harassment means and how it can be recognized, confronted,
STRONG COMPANY POLICY
Although a number of large companies
have already established policies governing sexual harassment, effective
compliance with the Supreme Court's rulings on sexual harassment requires that
all companies, as well as schools that receive federal funds, establish sexual
harassment policies that they put in writing, disseminate, and enforce (Barrier
1998). A company policy addressing sexual harassment must clearly specify (1)
the behaviors that constitute harassment and the company's intolerance of such
behaviors; (2) channels employees must follow to report sexual harassment
complaints to their supervisors or designated company representative; (3)
strategies the company will follow in investigating and resolving a complaint,
including confidentiality practices; (4) warnings that violation of the policy
will result in punishments that could include dismissal; and (5) assurance that
retaliation will not be allowed (Ganzel 1998).
Good policy statements reflect collaboration among executives, supervisors,
and employees and among administrators, teachers, and students. They respond to
the organizational climate, which includes family and community as well as
school influences. Because "sexual harassment is a manifestation of deeply held
beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and cultural norms..., it is predicated on
sociocultural views and sex-role stereotypes" (Brandenburg 1997, p. 39). It
reflects the abuse of power, a gender-power differential, and sometimes
power-related retaliation. Some authors add sexual orientation power struggles
to that list (ibid.).
In an address to educators at a conference organized by the Safe School
Coalition, Marjorie Fink, a national sexual harassment prevention trainer,
identified climate as a major component to guide prevention efforts ("Trainer:
Stop Bullying" 1999). Every school, like every business, has its unique climate.
In some organizations, verbal teasing, dirty jokes, and sexual pictures may be
the dominant behavior that reflects sexual harassment; in others, improper
touching, stalking, or shoving may be the misbehavior (ibid.). When all members
of a work organization or school become involved in establishing policy, these
contextual issues can be more effectively addressed and behaviors targeted.
Although companies are required by law
to handle grievances internally before seeking outside litigation, schools are
also finding internal grievances procedures to be more effective in handling
sexual harassment complaints. "Internal grievance procedures may save time,
minimize emotional and financial expense, and be more sensitive to all persons" (Brandenburg 1997, p. 53).
Effective grievance procedures should clearly define the steps for submitting
complaints, both informally and formally. Procedures for informal complaints
should detail how the harassed person should go about seeking advice or counsel
about a proper response to the offending behavior and describe the process of
mediation, negotiation, and problem solving that may be used to resolve the
issue. Procedures for formal complaints should require that the grievance be
submitted in writing and present all facts related to the incident--who, what,
where, when, the scope of the incident, and names of individuals involved.
Typically, these reports must be submitted immediately after the incident, not
weeks later. However, it is the responsibility of each company and school to
specify the procedures it wants its employees or students to follow.
Grievance procedures should also identify the person or persons to whom
grievances must be submitted. In the grievance officer model, all complaints are
processed through a designated supervisor or officer; in the grievance board or
committee model, grievances are submitted to a group (Brandenburg 1997).
Although the grievance officer model offers the advantage of one entry point for
complaint submission, it has the disadvantage of possibly requiring the harassed
employee to deal with someone with whom he or she may be uncomfortable. The
committee model, which places the problem in the hands of many, has the
disadvantage of requiring greater communication and coordination between
committee members and the harassed employee, making it more difficult to ensure
Whatever process is adopted, the procedures the grievance officer/committee
will follow must also be identified, e.g., receive the written complaint,
identify the specific harassment, interview complainants, interview the accused,
interview witnesses, determine if sexual harassment has occurred, present the
findings to both parties along with the consequences of the action, and require
employees to accept mandatory arbitration ("Protecting Employees" 1998).
SEXUAL HARASSMENT PREVENTION TRAINING
No policy or set of
grievance procedures will be effective unless all employees, from supervisors to
line workers, administrators to custodial staff, are knowledgeable about the
company's policy and grievance procedures. To prevent vulnerability to sexual
harassment allegations, an organization must provide access to training for all
employees and document their participation in and completion of the training
program. Employees need to be aware that, although the recent Supreme Court's
rulings held companies liable for harassment by supervisors even when management
was unaware of the incidents, they made it clear that companies cannot be held
liable for incidents in which an harassed employee did not follow the company's
reporting procedures or did not participate in company-sponsored sexual
harassment prevention training ("Protecting Employees" 1998).
Sexual harassment training should explain the law that prohibits sexual
harassment, identify the actions that may be categorized as sexual harassment,
describe the company's policy and its grievance procedures. However, the
training should also heighten awareness of sexual harassment and present
strategies for intervention.
Effective programs define sexual harassment and provide information on its
incidence. Sexual harassment should be defined as "unwanted sexual attention
that would be offensive to a reasonable person and that negatively affects the
work or school environment" (Brandenburg 1997, p. 1). The key word in the
definition is "unwanted." Two categories of sexual harassment may be given to
guide thinking during the training program: quid pro quo harassment and hostile
Quid pro quo harassment occurs "when submission to or rejection of such
(unwelcome sexual) conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment
decisions affecting such individual" (ibid., p. 2). Hostile environment
harassment, on the other hand, occurs "when unwelcome sexual conduct causes the
environment to become hostile, intimidating, or offensive, and unreasonably
interferes with an employee's or student's work" (ibid., p. 3). Training
programs should ensure that participants understand these definitions so that
they can construct their own meanings of sexual harassment as they discuss the
experiences of others.
Effective programs reflect good teaching and learning practices. They are
descriptive, intensive, relevant, and positive (Berkowitz 1998):
require the involvement of all members of a company or school and include family
and community members who have an influence on the employees' or students' life.
offer participatory, problem-based learning experiences that are interactive and
actively engage the student in learning.
are tailored to the "age, community culture, and socioeconomic status of the
trainee and are contextualized to the individual's peer group experiences"
(ibid., p. 3).
present information from a positive viewpoint, encouraging healthy behavior
rather than forbidding poor behavior.
Effective programs teach intervention skills. Berkowitz (1998) identifies the
following steps for converting bystander behavior to intervention (pp. 3-4):
learners to recognize sexual harassment incidents by providing them with
appropriate and relevant definitions and examples of sexual harassment.
learners to interpret which behaviors signify harassment.
participants to share their experiences and their intolerance for certain
behaviors as a means of illustrating their common ground.
participants to feel responsible for dealing with the problem.
intervention skills and provide opportunities to practice them. Use role play
scenarios to help participants find comfortable and appropriate ways to express
their discomfort with another's behavior.
participants be free of retaliation. Explore participants' fears about
retaliation and provide examples of how interventions will be supported.
Sexual harassment training programs for a
business or school organization's supervisors and employees can be internally or
externally provided. Some companies are making training available online.
Corpedia Training Technologies in Phoenix, or example, has an Internet-linked
CD-ROM-based sexual harassment program to help employees and their supervisors
recognize and take steps to prevent sexual harassment ("Sexual Harassment
Training Online" 1999).
Although the sources of training may vary across organizations, each program
should result in the achievement of designated learning outcomes. Case studies,
scenarios, and ill-structured problems offer ways to connect knowledge about
sexual harassment to its prevention in the workplace. The ultimate success of a
company's or school's sexual harassment prevention training program will be
reflected in the organization's ability to eliminate the behavior and avoid
sexual harassment lawsuits.
Barrier, M. "Sexual Harassment." NATION'S
BUSINESS 86, no. 12 (December 1998): 14-19.
Berkowitz, A. D. "How We Can Prevent Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault."
EDUCATOR'S GUIDE TO CONTROLLING SEXUAL HARASSMENT 6, no. 1 (October 1998): 1-4.
Brandenburg, J. B. CONFRONTING SEXUAL HARASSMENT. New York: Teacher's
College, Columbia University, 1997.
Ganzel, R. "What Sexual-Harassment Training Really Prevents." TRAINING 35,
no. 10 (October 1998): 86-94.
Kimble-Ellis, S. "Safeguard against Sexual Harassment." Black Enterprise 29,
no. 5 (December 1998): 36.
"Protecting Employees--and Your Business." NATION'S BUSINESS 86, no. 12
(December 1998): 18-19.
"Sexual Harassment Training Online." BEST'S REVIEW 99, no. 9 (January 1999):
"Trainer: Stop Bullying and Teasing in K-6 to Prevent Sexual Harassment Now,
Later." EDUCATOR'S GUIDE TO CONTROLLING SEXUAL HARASSMENT: MONTHLY BULLETIN 6,
no. 4 (January 1999): 1, 3.