Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Laws – Part 2

Published September 25, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

Ethics

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Theories

Managers with an awareness of discrimination laws from a variety of vantage points, including ethics, can produce a more successful working environment and avoid lawsuits. Ethical theories help leaders decide what is morally acceptable. Geisler (1989) suggests that ethics can be defined in terms of what the organization deems as morally right and that each company creates its own set of ethical standards (Geisler, 1989). In a business environment, leaders look to their own views of morality and ethics to assist them in the decision making process. However, there are times when a leader is confronted with making a decision and is required to determine whether it is more important for the organization to engage in ethical practices or lawful ones. For example, when a claimant files a sexual harassment charge, they are seeking restitution for the violations they experience. In this situation, employers are obligated to manage both the legal ramifications as well as the ethical ones. In other words, while the proceedings are taking place, the employer must take the necessary steps to allow the justice system to prevail, while employers do what they can to support the individual that is suffering, rather than participate in efforts to isolate and humiliate the plaintiff further.

It is the employer’s responsibility to cultivate a climate that personnel feel safe in. Employees that experience discrimination feel unvalued and inadequate. In addition, employees that are subjected to sexual discrimination and harassment experience more physical and psychological problems. Employers need to protect themselves from these events occurring because victims have the support of the legal system to engage attorneys that will pursue restitution. Seaquist (2012) explains laws concern themselves with issues of right and wrong with the administration of justice. Business leaders should also take into consideration the topics of ethics and morality to help their personnel identify more clearly what is considered acceptable and unacceptable conduct (Seaquist, 2012). For example, business leaders that apply the ethical absolutism theory, accept that there are certain universal parameters that determine what is right and wrong. If stealing is wrong for instance, then it is always considered wrong regardless of the situation. Therefore a business leader that incorporates ethical absolutism will always consider stealing morally wrong. However, if the culture in a business has an open attitude towards sexual harassment and views this behavior as boys just being boys, then in an ethical absolutism environment, sexual harassment is accepted as morally right. Simply put, in an environment where many of the employees in upper management are engaged in extramarital affairs, these executives tend to hire employees that embrace the same attitude, or have a disposition in which they are happy to look the other way, or go with the flow, when it comes to ethical misconduct. Not only are personnel conditioned to accept this behavior, many in fact subscribe that there is nothing morally wrong with it. Corporations that cultivate a culture of religious fundamentalism on the other hand, base their code of ethics on scriptures written by prophets and would most likely reject a concept like this.  It is highly probable that they would view sexual discrimination and harassment as a sin and morally incomprehensible.

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Culture

American culture is slowly emerging from a patriarchal society that supported the male sexual dominance of women and employers that control their workers. For example, many corporate department heads from a former place of employment, hired assistants that were physically attractive with an uninhibited free spirit and disposition. Furthermore, they supported an environment that consisted of an open flirtatious atmosphere established by the leaders with various incentives like compensation, pay raises, promotions, free merchandise, or tickets and backstage passes to special events, the use of company limousines, and other similar perks to encourage and support that behavior. Sexual harassment complaints in this kind of culture are typically nonexistent because of the climate that has been cultivated by the supervisors that everyone conforms to, including low level employees.  In other words, they are able to maintain an unethical atmosphere because candidates for hire were only considered and remained as long as they embraced the established culture.

Employers also set the tone of a work environment by the people they hire. Adler’s (2013) research also indicates that many employers have a difficult time hiring and recruiting the best candidates because they are ineffective at implementing strategies to attract top performers (Adler, 2013).  One of the reasons for this is that many leaders have unhealthy perceptions of employee and subordinate roles in the workplace, especially those hired as personal or administrative assistants. Many executives view their assistants for example, as a reflection of themselves and therefore hire staff members that represent of a certain kind of image they deem appropriate for their department. For instance, in a corporate situation, the head of the legal department may hire staff members that adopt a conservative style based on skills and knowledge to represent the group of attorneys that operate that division. The publicity and promotion departments on the other hand, may hire staff members based on artistic and creative skills.  Staff members may consist of  more free spirited people with an open attitude, youthful drive and energy. In other words, the department heads set the atmosphere for the climate and ethical culture they develop and hire staff members that are an organizational fit in that arena.

There is no single law that covers all workers in the US. Walsh (2013) reminds us that employment laws consist of a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws that continue to evolve and are contingent upon many components including the size of the organization (Walsh, 2013). For example, as mentioned previously, many supervisors hire personal assistants based on certain components including, age, appearance, and physical type rather than seek individuals that are qualified with skills and knowledge. In addition, there are many executives that tend to view assistants as their trophy, rather than a skilled person best qualified for the job. This is indicative of a climate where women are perceived as objects, rather than individuals capable of innovation and considerable contribution to an organization’s success. In addition, these females are also viewed and discriminated against by other staff members of the same sex as well. For example, when I was hired as an administrative assistant in the music industry, issues of discrimination immediately began to surface in the corporate arena.  It was evident from the behavior of other staff members of the same gender and equal rank that I was an outsider to them. I later discovered that some of the women even jokingly referred to me as the new dish. In short, other staff members automatically made a judgment based on appearances, not because of my level of skills and knowledge. Rather than embrace and welcome me as a new employee, they engaged in acts of discrimination, making me feel isolated and friendless. In some cases, many employers and employees do not have a clear set of identifying acceptable and unacceptable relationship boundaries. This also fosters unhealthy relationships.

Legalities

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Legal and Political Aspects

Business leaders that understand the legal and political perspective of discrimination issues, are more likely to achieve the best legal outcomes. Palumbo and Wolfson (2011) suggest that patriarchal systems can also influence behavioral patterns that are enforced, legitimized, and perpetuated in a business arena (Palumbo & Wolfson, 2011). These systems can have a significant influence on politics and policy making. For instance, fundamental religion has played a significant role in the world in that many leaders use this position to justify totalitarian actions that are based on absolutist ideals. Leaders in this climate, reveal their ethical principles by the type of legal systems that support them. For example, the civil law system that is common in most of the European Countries (EC) meticulously outlines individual rights and responsibilities. In its quick implementation of justice and with limited power of judicial interpretation, it reinforces an absolutist kind of ethical philosophy with systems that require strict compliance to statutes that guide behavior and leave little room for deviation.

Common law systems, on the other hand, like those established in the US, leave wide latitude for interpretation and provide a multi-faceted frame for the appellate courts to determine (Palumbo & Wolfson, 2011). In other words, civil laws leave little room for misinterpretation, while common law offers latitude for litigants to argue. For example, in a country where civil laws pervade, a sexual harassment issue can be resolved quickly by the laws. In a country where common law systems pervade, both sides of the case must produce substantial evidence to support their position and in many instances, the defense will engage in tactics that degrade, belittle, and present the victim in an unfavorable manner to provide reasonable doubt with respect to a claim. Because of this, many victims do not come forward to avoid the humiliation of such an experience in addition to the violation they are processing and working to recover from.

References:

Adler, L. (2013). The essential guide for hiring and getting hired. Atlanta, GA: Workbench Media.

Chopra, D. (2013, August 16). 21 day meditation challenge: Miraculous relationships. Retrieved August 16, 2103, from chopracentermeditation.com: https://chopracentermeditation.com

Clarkson, K., & Miller, R. (2012). Business law: Text and cases: Legal, ethical, global and corporate environment. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Fredman, S. (2011). Discrimination law. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gordon, L. (2007). The sexual harrassment handbook. Franklin Lakes, NJ: The Career Press, Inc.

Hanh, T. (2012). Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

MacKinnon, C. (1979). Sexual harrassment of working women. Boston, MA: Yale University.

McGraw, P. (2012). Life code. Los Angeles, CA, USA: Bird Street Books.

Palumbo, C., & Wolfson, B. (2011). The law of sex discrimination (Fourth ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Rassas, L. (2011). Employment law: a guide to hiring, managing, and firing employers and employees. New York, NY: Aspen Publishers.

Seaquist, G. (2012). Business law for managers. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Walsh, D. (2013). Employment law for human resource practice. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Wilde, S. (1987). Life was never meant to be a struggle. Carlsbad, CA, USA: Hay House, Inc.

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