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Sexual Harassment Essay

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is said to constitute sexual harassment if such advances, requests or conducts interferes with the employees work performance or creates a hostile or offensive work environment or submission to such behavior is made a work condition and rejection of the same would affect the employee’s future in the workplace.  In the early stages, sexual harassment without any direct economic consequence was not considered as affecting condition of employment and hence did not fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 1964. However, with more cases of Sexual Harassment coming to Courts and with the emergence of case law, two types of sexual harassment claims were defined. The first type of sexual harassment claims was the Quid Pro Quo claims where refusal to succumb to such sexual advances or requests leads to serious economic loss and the second type is the hostile work environment claims where the person cannot work or perform peacefully and is subject to hostile treatment (Robinson, Allen, Franklin & Duhon, 1993).The EEOC guidelines specify that all companies, establishments and institutions should have their own policy and complaints mechanisms to tackle the issue of Sexual harassment at workplace. Most educational institutions and companies have laid down their policies based on the policy guidelines issued by the EEOC. One such company, Reynolds American Inc., has laid down its policy to tackle sexual harassment in its Code of Conduct. Chapter XVIII of the Code of Conduct of Reynolds American Inc. deals with Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Workplace Diversity and Chapter XIX deals with No Harassment Policy.  These chapters specify that no employee shall be discriminated on the basis of race, color, religion, sex etc and also that the company shall strive to maintain an atmosphere free from sexual and other forms of harassment. The prohibition against harassment of this particular company covers harassment by supervisors, co-workers, outsiders like clients etc. The No Harassment Policy clearly states that “Any employee who engages in any action or conduct constituting harassment will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment” (“Code of Conduct”).The sexual harassment policy of Reynolds American Inc. includes the definition of sexual harassment, instances when sexual harassment may occur, conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, complaint mechanisms and remedies.  According to the policy, sexual harassment is “any deliberate, unsolicited deliberate, unsolicited, unwanted and unwelcome sexual overtures, or the creation of an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment through repetitive inappropriate verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” (Code of conduct). It goes on to clarify that only when such behavior is used by an employee to control or affect another employee’s work or to create a hostile working environment that it will constitute sexual harassment.The policy goes on to clarify that conduct is not restricted to actual advances or requests but also includes lewd remarks, jokes, slurs, display of pictures etc. The policy then details the procedure to be followed by a person who feels that he or she is being harassed. The complaint procedure includes making a complain to the appropriate Human Resources Representative for investigation. The policy states that all such complaints will be thoroughly investigated and corrective action will be taken. The Company assures confidentiality along with timely management of the complaint and also promises that persons making complaints in good faith or cooperating with the investigation will not be adversely affected.Together with specifying the need for a policy, the EEOC has also developed certain guidelines for developing a sexual harassment policy. According to the guidelines, a policy should essentially address the organizations view of sexual harassment, definition of sexual harassment, examples of sexual harassment, remedies available to the employee who is a victim of sexual harassment and details regarding how the company will handle the complaint (Robinson, et al, 1993). An ideal policy should contain in strong and no nonsense terms the punishment that will be meted out to persons found guilty of offence of sexual harassment. This is to ensure that it does not repeat itself in the workplace. Together with this, a company needs to specify a simple yet effective complaints procedure and also assure the victim that all confidentiality will be maintained. Sexual Harassment is essentially a display of power and in most cases employees refrain from complaining against their bosses for fear of losing their jobs and other related problems. Complaints procedures laid out in the policy document of each company should be clear, specific and trust inspiring. Channels of leadership, if necessary, should be avoided and a person should be allowed to go to any person that he/she may trust.In the case of Reynolds American Inc., a brief chapter has been included in the code of conduct regarding no harassment policy. The policy is effective in its definition and examples and it clearly indicates the viewpoint of the company and its sincerity in trying to prohibit sexual harassment in its workplace. However, the complaint mechanisms laid down in the policy statement is very vague. Also, it requires that complaints be made to the Appropriate Human Resources Representative. Though this is exactly what the guidelines prescribed it does not provide for cases where such an individual may be biased. Another aspect of the policy is that it only states that complaints will be thoroughly investigated but does not lay out the methods that will be used to verify and investigate complaints. Punishment that will be meted out to guilty parties again is not specified. Also measures that will be taken to maintain confidentiality of complainant are again not specified. Though the policy clearly follows the guidelines prescribed by EEOC, it still has certain loopholes.The main problem area being that it does not inspire trust in the employee to complain. It does not specify an alternative complaint recording system. It does not talk of educating the employees about sexual harassment policy, procedures for filing complaints and other matters. The policy also does not throw light on any interim action that may be taken by the Company against the accused while the investigation is pending. The policy also does not deal with the training requirements of persons handling sexual harassment complaints. It is often seen that people who handle such complaints are ill equipped to do so and end up creating problems for both the victim and the accused. They are ill prepared to deal with the fears and the insecurities of the victim who are not quite sure that confidentiality of complaints will be maintained and that due process will be followed in investigation.History has seen very few complaints regarding sexual harassment coming to light. The reason for this is the vague policy details and complaints procedures in many companies. Thus it is very clear that an effective sexual harassment policy should not only include the viewpoint, definition and examples but should clearly reflect the complaint processes in detail and the investigation patterns. This policy should be trust inspiring and should enable the weakest of employees to come forth with their complaints against the management.ReferencesRobinson, R. K., Allen, B. K., Franklin, G. M., & Duhon, D. L. (1993). Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Review of the Legal Rights and Responsibilities of All Parties. Public Personnel Management. Retrieved March 6, 2007, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000167152Reynolds American Inc. (2005). Chapter XIX. No Harassment Policy. Code of Conduct. Retrieved March 7, 2007 from http://www.reynoldsamerican.com/Governance/conduct_XIX.aspx

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