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 Employees" 1998):
1. Develop a strong company policy that specifies in writing outlawed behaviors and penalties for their demonstration
2. Establish grievance procedures for reporting, processing, and resolving complaints
3. Provide sexual harassment training for supervisors, managers, and workers that explains what sexual harassment means and how it can be recognized, confronted, and averted.
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).