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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Autor:   •  December 19, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,289 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,868 Views

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Business Ethics

Philosophy Class 218

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

What is sexual harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

I think sexual harassment in the workplace is a social responsibility of business, unlike Milton Friedman's thoughts. Friedman believes corporations are there only to make a profit. He states, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits..." George Brenkert another author in Business Ethics believes that corporations should assume some of the social responsibility to help alleviate "public welfare deficiencies" , areas such as inner city, drug problems, and poverty.

Brenkert's article does not speak to social responsibilities within the workplace, only how corporations should help with society issues in the public scheme of things. One other author, Norman Bowie, takes a neoclassical view that "corporations are to make a profit while honoring the moral minimum and respecting individual rights and justice." The corporate social responsibility doctrine is most often conceived of as having to do mainly with what the corporation owes society. So the responsibility of corporations to treat their employees well is not often raised in this context.

From my perspective, I agree with Norman Bowie. Sexual behavior in the workplace is an appearance of general male dominance since it presents a moral etiquette and a lack of respect of an individual's rights and justice. In our social culture, I think most people believe that men and women are held in a structure of dominance and subordination. Men are thought to be the dominate gender and women the subordinate.

I believe most corporations, whether conscious or not, reward male employees for their aggressive and assertive behavior, whereas women are seen as passive, mild mannered or weak. Therefore, the majority of sexual harassment claims are from women against men.

Within the workplace, sexual harassment is about exclusionary treatment and the abuse of personal power by management to subordinates. Exploration into sexual harassment did not occur until the mid 1970's as in such controversial books by feminist authors such as Lin Farley's Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on The Job (1978) and Catherine MacKinnon's Sexual Harassment of Working Women (1979).

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a recent problem, although legal liability for it is. With widespread publicity, surveys have shown that many companies in the United States still have not taken the proper steps to protect themselves and their employees.

In 1978, anthropologist Margaret Mead, then a writer for Redbook, spoke about the problems of sexual harassment in the workplace this way, "it isn't more laws that we need now, but new taboos." "You don't make passes at or sleep with the people you work with." (Mead 1978) Mead felt corporations and employees needed better morals and ethics within the workplace instead of laws governing our movements.

Some authors such as Kenneth Cooper want us to believe that the sexual harassment pendulum swings from one extreme to the other with various steps between including such things as offensive language and flirting.

Kenneth Cooper is the author of, The Six Levels of Sexual Harassment; he proposed, "managers explain the concept to employees primarily through description of various patterns." Cooper believes that females harassed by male managers can fit into six levels, or degrees, of sexual harassment. Cooper says the order of placement is based upon, "a third party's ability to identify the perpetrator's behavior as sexual harassment and the severity of the infraction."

The six levels include:

1. Aesthetic appreciation

2. Active mental groping

3. Social touching

4. Foreplay harassment

5. Sexual abuse

6. Ultimate threat

His description of aesthetic appreciation includes nonaggressive comments related to appreciation of physical features. Although the meaning may be innocently concealed in such nonaggressive comments, it is still nonetheless sexual harassment. He cites an example of this type of appreciation of physical features as, "'re looking better every day!" He argues that no matter how harmless the comments may seem they are still a put-down to the female gender and that a manager to make such comments could be construed as favoritism because of the person's physical features.

Active mental groping is the second level in Cooper's sexual harassment descriptions. He believes that direct verbal harassment is a form of active mental groping because it includes sexual jokes about the employee and staring at employee, which possibly leaves employee feeling uncomfortable, as if they are being undressed with the person's eyes.

Third on his list is social touching. Social touching is distinguished as either friendly or sensual touching. Cooper gives us the example of, "a caressing hand laid gently on the employee," as a sensual touch, or "the movement of manager's hand up and down the employee's back."

What Cooper does not give us is an example of a friendly touch for us to compare against his sensual touch. The caressing hand laid gently on the employee could be a sign of concern or empathy toward bad news the employee may have just heard. It sounds as if he is merely warning managers to the outcome of a sensual touch as perceived by the employee. Distinction between a sensual and friendly touch could lie differently in the mind of


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