People work in different organizations hence they spend most of their time there. It then follows that while at the workplace, they are likely to face various ethical dilemmas. Some of them occur on a regular basis and affect employees negatively. However, there are ways through which some of the ethical dilemmas can be resolved without putting one’s job at risk or bringing confusion at the workplace. This essay would focus on sexual harassment as one of the ethical dilemmas employees face at their workplaces.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is defined as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of an individual. It undermines the dignity of those affected and has negative effects since it limits their capacity to earn a living, work effectively or realize their full potential. Apart from interfering with the lives of the victims, sexual harassment at the workplace can also destroy the entire working environment. Failure to take action against it sometimes leads to violent acts and this may completely affect the progress of an organization.
Organizations that allow sexual harassment to continue unabated face serious challenges caused by low productivity, reduced morale among employees, failure to report to work and increased health care expenses. In addition, sexual harassment might lead to legal expenses in cases where victims take matters to court.
Some of the most common forms of sexual harassment include promises of favorable treatment in exchange for sex, repeated demands for dates, use of unkind comments intended to offend somebody, cracking sexual jokes and attempts of unacceptable physical contact like touching. Both men and women are exposed to sexual harassment but women are the most vulnerable because they relatively have low status, hold low paying jobs and their authority is limited (Conte, 2000).
Ethical Dilemmas Related to Sexual Harassment
The ethical dilemmas of sexual harassment at the workplace focus on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. This is usually done with special attention to both men and women. The first ethical dilemma is discrimination. Most laws stipulate that employees should not be discriminated on the basis of their gender. An example of a sexual harassment act that qualifies to be termed as discrimination is denial of promotion on grounds that an employee rejected sexual advances from a manager. Individuals who face sexual harassment based on discrimination have the right to file complaints.
The second ethical dilemma involved in sexual harassment is the responsibility and reporting of the acts when they occur. Employers have a role to play in ensuring that sexual harassment does not occur. This implies that they are supposed to take certain actions that prevent the offenses from happening. This is achieved through the establishment of policies that facilitate reporting of sexual harassment offenses. When employers take the necessary measures to prevent sexual harassment, they are not held liable when it occurs.
However, some organizations demand that they should bear responsibility when their managers are involved in sexual harassment. Yet, victims of sexual harassment face an ethical dilemma because their decision to report the offenses might cost them their jobs. On the other hand, failure to report the incidents might be taken to imply that they support them.
The third ethical dilemma is related to the work environment itself. Sexual harassment acts lead to working environments characterized by fear due to sexual hostilities. The implication is that employees would always think about security of their jobs when they are faced with sexual demands. Individuals who engage in sexual harassment also pressurize the victims to either quit their jobs or put up with the acts. Some forms of sexual harassment such as sexual favors and discrimination lower the productivity of employees who work hard.
The fourth ethical dilemma related to sexual harassment is the concept of reasonable woman. Men and women sometimes perceive acts that are regarded as sexual harassment differently. Certain behaviors may continue for a long period of time if the victims do not rebuke the perpetrators by telling them that they do not approve what they do to them. The idea of reasonable person is mostly used in legal fields to isolate incidents that are sexually offensive. In situations where a reasonable person considers a certain act to be harassment, chances are high that the offense has been committed.
Parties Impacted by Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment at the workplace has negative impacts on two major parties. The first impact is felt by the victims who in most cases are employees. It affects their performance, health, morale and confidence. It also causes stress and anxiety among them, which leads to absenteeism from work and poor performance. In extreme cases, victims may decide to look for work elsewhere. Employees who are exposed to sexual harassment face serious challenges in terms of their career growth. Those who are compelled to change jobs deal with long-term damages to their employment prospects. In addition, employees who witness sexual offenses being perpetrated on their colleagues are impacted negatively.
The second party that is impacted negatively by sexual harassment is the employer. It directly affects the financial stability of an organization due to reduced profits, especially when employees repeatedly ask for leave and others tender their resignation letters. The productivity of employees is also reduced because they work in an environment where personal integrity is continually violated. This eventually leads to big losses.
Causes of Sexual Harassment at the workplace
Sexual harassment at the workplace is attributed to different causes, the first one being socialization. This deals with the manner in which men and women are taught to treat other people as they grow up. Different individual viewpoints can lead to acts of sexual harassment. For example, in cultures where individuals are treated differently on the basis of their gender, religion or race, cases of sexual harassment at the workplace are many.
The second cause of sexual harassment is power games. Power relationships in the world have changed due to political and social changes. As a result, some men might consider career development among women a threat to them. Others who acquire positions of power might involve themselves in sexual harassment activities in a bid to prove themselves (What is sexual harassment?, 2012).
The third cause of sexual harassment at the workplace is bravado and aggressive behavior. When some people are in groups, they behave in a manner that is different from the way they behave as individuals. This explains some of the gang acts of sexual harassment that mostly occur to women.
The fourth cause of sexual harassment at the workplace is the failure by organizations to put in place proper policies that shield employees from sexual harassment. In such organizations, victims of sexual harassment decide to resign from work because they do not know where to report sexual harassment acts. Even when they report, no action is taken against the perpetrators.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue at the workplace that should not be taken lightly. The first recommendation is that employers should do certain things to protect their employees from sexual harassment. They can achieve this by establishing policies that prohibit sexual harassment and stipulate how victims should complain in case such incidents occur. In addition, employers should not establish policies that would not be followed. They should take action and investigate all complaints from employees.
The second recommendation is that employees should play an important role in eliminating sexual harassment at the workplace. They should do this by reporting cases of sexual harassment to the relevant people for action to be taken. Victims who fail to complain and instead remain quiet do very little to curb sexual harassment acts.
Sexual harassment is one of the most common ethical issues found in most organizations. Contrary to what some people believe, it affects both men and women. It is caused by different factors among them lack of clear policies prohibiting sexual harassment, power games and cultural reasons where some individuals are accustomed to discrimination based on gender, race or religion. It affects employees by causing anxiety among them.
In extreme cases, some of them quit work. Similarly, it impacts organizations negatively through reduced productivity and profits. To deal with this ethical issue, organizations should establish clear policies that protect employees and encourage them to report cases of sexual harassment for appropriate actions to be taken.
Conte, A. (2000). Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Law and Practice. New York: Aspen Publishers Online.
What is sexual harassment? (2012).