It is the responsibility of each individual employee and program participant to refrain from
sexual harassment, and it is the right of each individual employee and program participant to work in an environment free from sexual harassment.
Definition of Sexual Harassment
According to the Illinois Human Rights Act, sexual harassment is defined as:
Any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term of condition of an individual’s employment.
- submissions to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
- such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
Other conduct commonly considered to be sexual harassment includes:
- Verbal: Sexual innuendos, suggestive comments, insults, humor and jokes about sex, anatomy – or gender – specific traits, sexual propositions, threats, repeated requests for dates, or statements about other employees, even outside of their presences, of a sexual nature.
- Non-verbal: Suggestive or insulting sounds (whistling), leering, obscene gestures, sexually suggestive bodily gestures, “catcalls,” “smacking” or “kissing” noises.
- Visual: Posters, signs, pin-ups or slogans of a sexual nature.
- Physical: Touching, unwelcome hugging or kissing, pinching, brushing the body, coerced sexual intercourse, or actual assault.
Sexual harassment most frequently involves a man harassing a woman. However, it can also involve a woman harassing a man or harassment between members of the same gender.
The most severe and overt forms of sexual harassment are easier to determine. On the other end of the spectrum, some sexual harassment is more subtle and depends to some extent on individual perception and interpretation. The trend in the courts is to assess sexual harassment by a standard of what would offend a “reasonable woman” or a “reasonable man,” depending on the gender of the alleged victim.
An example of the most subtle form of sexual harassment is the use of endearments. The use of terms such as “honey,” “darling,” and “sweetheart,” is objectionable to many women who believe that these terms undermine their authority and their ability to deal with men on an equal and professional level.
Another example is the use of a compliment that could potentially be interpreted as sexual in nature. Below are three statements that might be made about the appearance of a woman in the work place:
“That’s an attractive dress you have on.”
“That’s an attractive dress. It really looks good on you,”
“That’s an attractive dress. You really fill it out well.”
The first statement appears to be simply a compliment. The last is the most likely to be received as sexual harassment, depending on individual perceptions and values. To avoid the possibility of offending an employee, it is best to follow a course of conduct above reproach, or error on the side of caution.
Responsibility of Individual Employees or Program Participants
Each individual employee or program participant has the responsibility to refrain from sexual harassment in the workplace.
An individual or program participant who sexually harasses a program participant or fellow program participant is, of course, liable for his or her individual conduct.
The harassing employee or program participant will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including discharge or dismissal from the program in accordance with program policy.
Responsibility of Supervisory Personnel
Each supervisor is responsible for maintaining the workplace and program environment free of sexual harassment. This is accomplished by promoting a professional environment and by dealing with sexual harassment as with all other forms of employee an program participant misconduct.
The courts have found that organizations as well as supervisors can be held liable for damage related to sexual harassment by a manager, supervisor, employee, or third party (an individual who is not an employee or program participant but does business with an organization, such as a contractor, student, client, or speaker).
Liability is either based on an organization’s responsibility to maintain a certain level of order and discipline, or on the coordinator or director acting as an agent of the organization or program. As such, the coordinator or director must act quickly and responsibly not only to minimize their own liability but also that of the agency or program.
Specifically, a coordinator or director must address an observed incident of sexual harassment or a complaint, with seriousness, take prompt action to investigate it, report it and end it, implement appropriate disciplinary action, and observe strict confidentiality. This also applies to cases where an employee or program participant tells the supervisor about behavior considered sexual harassment but does not want to make a formal complaint.
In addition, the director must ensure that no retaliation will result against an employee or
program participant making a sexual harassment complaint.
Procedures for Filing a Complaint
An employee or program participant who either observes or believes herself/himself to be the object of sexual harassment should deal with the incident(s) as directly and firmly as possible by clearly communicating her/his position to the supervisor or program coordinator, and offending employee. It is not necessary for sexual harassment to be directed at the person making the complaint.
The following steps may also be taken: document or record each incident (what was said or done, the date, the time, and the place). Documentation can be strengthened by written records such, as letters, notes, memos, emails, and telephone messages.
No one making a complaint will be retaliated against even if a complaint made in good faith cannot be substantiated. In addition, any witness will be protected from retaliation.
The process of making a complaint about sexual harassment falls into several stages.
- Direct communication. If there is sexually harassing behavior in the workplace or program environment, the harassed employee or program participant should directly and clearly express her/his objection that the conduct is unwelcome and request that the offending behavior stop. The initial message may be verbal. If subsequent messages are needed, they should be put in writing in a note or a memo.
- Contact with the Program Coordinator or Director. At the same time direct communication is undertaken, or in the event the employee or program participant feels threatened or intimidated by the situation, the problem must be promptly reported to the immediate supervisor, program coordinator or the EEO Officer. If the harasser is the immediate supervisor, the problem should be reported to the next level of supervision.
- Formal Written Complaint. An employee or program participant may also report incidents of sexual harassment directly to the Human Resource Manager. The Human Resource Manager will counsel the reporting employee or program participant and be available to assist with filing a formal complaint. The CATI Human Resources Department will fully investigate the complaint, and advise the complainant and the alleged harasser of the results of the investigation.
- Resolution Outside Department. It is hoped that most sexual harassment complaints and incidents can be resolved within an agency. However, an employee has the right to contact the Illinois Department of human Rights (IDHR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about filing a formal complaint. An IDHR complaint must be filed within 180 days, complaint with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days. Program participants wishing to file a complaint may also refer to their “Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Complaint Procedures” booklet, which was given to them at the time of program application.
An employee or program participant who is suddenly transferred to a lower paying job or passed over for promotion, after filing a complaint with IDHR or EEOC, may file a retaliation charge, also due within 180 days (IDHR) or 300 days (EEOC) of the alleged retaliation.
An employee or program participant who has been physically harassed or threatened while on the job or while participating in the program may also have grounds for criminal charges of assault and battery.
False and Frivolous Complaints
False and frivolous charges refer to cases where the accuser is using a sexual harassment complaint to accomplish some end other than stopping sexual harassment. It does not refer to charges made in good faith which cannot be proven. Given the seriousness of the consequences for the accused, a false and frivolous charge is a severe offense that can itself result in disciplinary action.