Recently, I’ve seen several news stories about the increase of men filing sexual harassment suits against their employers. There has been some speculation as to whether this is because the male employee (or his offender) is someone who was fired or laid off—and thus, the turn of events empowered the individual to voice his protests. It would seem then, that these tough economic times have given men the freedom to go public with complaints typically more likely to be associated with their female colleagues.
Back in January of this year, Newsweek reported that The Cheesecake Factory had settled a claim made by six male workers in the chain’s Chandler Mall location in Phoenix, Ariz. by paying $340,000 to the alleged victims. The Cheesecake Factory denied the charges of male-on-male harassment which workers claimed included fondling, simulated rape and being physically dragged into the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator.
A March 2010 story in The Wall Street Journal reported that 2,094 claims were filed by men in 2009, which equals 16.5 percent of all sexual harassment claims—up from 15.4 percent in 2006 and 8 percent in 1990 according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Some of the claims were categorized as unwelcome romantic advances, others stemmed from the tormentor’s perception of the victim as not being masculine enough for a particular job. Traditionally, many men have maintained their silence because of the stigma associated with such claims. Some workforce experts argue the claims rose as the unemployment numbers increased because men who would have once left a “hostile” work environment and gone someplace else can no longer do so due to the lack of available job opportunities. The Wall Street Journal noted the share of claims filed by men rose more in some states with higher than average unemployment rates. The EEOC shows states with a large percentage of sexual harassment claims filed by men include: Utah 32.2 percent, West Virginia 27.3 percent and Michigan 26.6 percent.
All companies, large or small, must provide an environment free of sexual harassment. This legal obligation is also necessary for maintaining a workplace that is not prone to poor employee morale, low productivity or costly lawsuits. Even if an employer is unaware such behavior is taking place between staff members, liability remains with the employer as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998.
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. There is a wide range of components that may include sexually explicit jokes, gestures, comments, various forms of body contact, sexist or belittling remarks, sexually explicit e-mails, public display of suggestive objects or websites, flirting and implied advancement, job retention or other work-related benefits resulting from sexual favors.
The EEOC says that the victim should inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop, then should communicate the grievance by using whatever company complaint system is in place. Regardless of business size or type, companies should have written policies against sexual harassment and employee training is generally the best prevention for improving bad workplace behavior.
Women still file the vast majority of sexual harassment claims, but as gender roles continue to evolve for both men and women, workplace offenses may also sway back and forth. Regardless of who the victim is—male or female—sexual harassment impacts morale, increases company costs and affects the self esteem of the victim, often by crippling an individual’s personal and professional growth. The bottom line—don’t do it…don’t tolerate it…don’t ignore it.
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to [email protected].