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Consequences of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 10/1/2010

Sexual harassment in the workplace can hurt a working environment, a professional career, and professional and/or personal relationships. The consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace can hurt those involved and even those who aren't.

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    Harassment of any kind within the workplace can have dire consequences to all who are involved. Consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace can not only affect the victim and the harasser, but also the company and the employees who work there. The company may experience negative backlashes in regards to employees not feeling comfortable with their environment or even due to legal actions if taken by the victim.

    Theses types of consequences can effect everyone, both those who are directly impacted, as well as those who indirectly involved.

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    What is Sexual Harassment?

    Sexual harassment is defined as the unwanted physical, verbal, or written conduct that is sexual in nature, including inappropriate physical contact, sexual or lewd comments, or inappropriate behavior. While traditionally, sexual harassment has been aimed at women, there have been incidences in which men can also experience sexual harassment. harassment1 

    It is very important to understand that sexual harassment is not defined or labeled as an misinterpretation of a single event. For example, if a co-worker or a superior touches someone on the arm in a manner to get their attention, this is an innocent gesture, meant to be taken in a friendly manner. The same can be said about an office atmosphere in which joking and teasing is considered normal, as employees and supervisors are relaxed enough with each other and the environment to joke in such a way.

    The situation is of course dependent on that of the working environment; again, it is important for you to know and understand how your particular office works. There is a difference between a relaxed atmosphere and one that is hostile; in most situations, communication can easily let others know how you feel about certain subject matters and enable them to still enjoy themselves, while making sure everyone is comfortable.

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    Consequences of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

    The consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace affect everyone, not just those involved. From a company standpoint, they may lose employees due to the hostile environment; if current employees feel as though the situation could happen again or that retaliation could happen (to, for example, friends or co-workers of the victim), they may not want to work for such a troubled company. There is also the image of the company itself. If the company did not do anything to help the victim or worse, shielded the harasser, their public image may suffer. Clients, stockholders, and employees will not want to have anything to do with the company or their business.

    Employees who may not have endured the harassment are still affected. As mentioned above, if an employee feels as though the working environment has become hostile, they may begin to look for work elsewhere. Female employees may be the first of those to leave, as they may feel that the situation doesn't seem to be handled in the way that would resolve the problem.

    The obvious consequence of sexual harassment in the workplace is placed on the victim of the harassment. Aside from the hostile working environment, the victim can also experience personal issues. Self-esteem, professional growth, stress, health, and even mental health issues may occur in the aftermath. Even if the victim leaves the company in which they experienced the harassment, they may have difficulties securing another position or they may view co-workers or superiors with suspicion, endangering the work relationship.

    Victims of sexual harassment or any type of harassment should report it to the proper authorities. Find what your company's policy is on workplace harassment, what your rights are, and how to go about filing a report. If you need to seek legal action, find out what needs to be done in your particular state and city.