If you haven't been living under a rock for the past decade, you know that fondling, making lewd comments, demanding sexual favors and other such conduct in the workplace is a one-way ticket to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Yes, employers know all about the perils of male-to-female harassment at work, and most have set up preventive measures accordingly. However, the latest data shows that men are starting to bring more sexual harassment claims against other men. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that in 2000, a full 13.6 percent of all sexual harassment charges were brought by men, and that figure has been steadily rising since 1992.
"I have seen a great increase in complaints by men about men committing sexual harassment," says Julie Crane, an attorney with the Fair Measures Corp. in Santa Cruz, California. "There has also been a great deal more interest in this topic at [employer] trainings I've conducted."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that sexual harassment by a person of one sex against a person of the same sex is actionable under Title VII, and complainants have since won judgments into the seven figures. What may once have been considered "locker-room behavior" can now be cause for a serious lawsuit. While there seems to be no concrete reason for the shifting attitudes, Crane speculates it has to do with companies becoming more educated as to what's appropriate workplace behavior, and men becoming less likely to tolerate offensive behavior, even from other men.
Steve Gerber, an attorney with Gerber & Samson LLC in Wayne, New Jersey, warns employers to take definitive measures to combat same-sex sexual harassment. "You have no defense other than to train your supervisors and provide employees with a viable mechanism to [bring complaints]," he says. "You can't just put a sign on the wall."
To protect your employees from harassment and your company from lawsuits, develop gender-neutral policies and provide specific examples of same-sex sexual harassment. "Same-sex sexual harassment should be treated as seriously as other forms of harassment," says Crane. "Everyone must be told it is not acceptable behavior."
- Fair Measures Corp.
- Gerber & Swanson LLC