Sexual harassment in the workplace is a well-documented problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that between 2018 and 2021, the agency received over 27,000 complaints of sexual harassment alone. This means that there were about 24 complaints of sexual harassment every single day.
You might think that with awareness campaigns and increased effort to highlight and punish sexual harassment, no workplace would tolerate such behavior. However, not only does workplace sexual harassment continue to occur in Texas, but some employers also actually encourage it through the sort of environment they allow to exist.
Those who sexually harass others tend to look both for a suitable victim to harass as well as a suitable environment in which to do so. Four environmental factors in a workplace can encourage sexual harassment to occur include:
Workplaces where there is not an even distribution of men and women tend to foster sexual harassment more than settings where men and women are more evenly represented.
The reason a workforce dominated by one sex encourages sexual harassment is that whichever sex is in the minority can easily feel underrepresented and as if they do not have the same power as the majority sex.
Giving one person unchecked power over another person’s employment, wages, and benefits is a recipe for harassment, especially if the two individuals are of the opposite sex. The person who is in the less advantageous position can feel as though their livelihood will be threatened if they do not tolerate the other’s behavior.
Power dynamics can also be unequal in workplaces where a portion of the workforce is at some cultural or legal disadvantage. For instance, migrant workers whose ability to work legally in the United States is limited may be reluctant to report harassing behavior for fear that they could be deported.
Similarly, workers with substantially less education may feel more vulnerable and may not feel supported to come forward with reports of harassment. These dynamics can encourage harassers to take advantage of the situation by making inappropriate comments, touching workers inappropriately, or making unlawful propositions.
Sexual harassment in the workplace does not always come from supervisors. It can come from customers too, especially when employees are dependent on customers’ business for their paychecks.
Employees in the hospitality industry are especially at risk of sexual harassment from customers because a customer who does not have a good time or who is confronted about inappropriate behavior might not leave a tip or return for future business.
There is a time and place for employees to unwind and relax around one another. But workplaces that permit employees to drink alcohol in excess or use drugs while on the job or on company property are inviting trouble.
When employees are around each other on company time or at company functions and their faculties are impaired, sexually charged jokes, innuendos, or propositions can occur.
Even if the perpetrator initially apologizes for their behavior, the victim may feel as though they must excuse this behavior because the person “was not in their right mind.” This can lead to the victim feeling as if they must always overlook this behavior, regardless of the perpetrator’s intoxication or impairment.
If a workplace has one or more of these risk factors, there are steps an employer can take to prevent sexual harassment from happening. These steps include:
- Have managers available to step in and confront customers who act inappropriately
- Do not permit employees to consume alcohol or use drugs on the job or at company events
- Ensure everyone has representation in the workplace
- Do not give one person unchecked power over other employees
If you are in a situation where you are experiencing sexual harassment it is wise to speak with a Houston employment law attorney immediately. Complaints brought with the help of an attorney can be fruitful in building a supportive and non-threatening environment at your workplace.
The attorneys at Armstrong & Associates have extensive knowledge and experience fighting for the rights of employees facing workplace harassment of all kinds and will guide you every step of the way, whether you need assistance communicating with your employer or you need to go to court to achieve justice. Call or Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.