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A review of sexual harassment in the workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3202 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The aim of this research proposal is to put forward a review of sexual harassment at workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Human Rights to equality in workplace. It is indeed very unfortunate to know that such an issue is still happening in an unrestrained manner today.

In this section, sexual harassment will be first defined. Moreover, emphasis will be laid on the main issue of this research, that is, sexual harassment at work. Finally, we will examine how and why harassment occurs and the possible solutions to combat this issue at the workplace. We are targeting better understanding on how to provide a holistic perspective to sexual harassment.

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Sexual harassment is a wrongful conduct. It should not be tolerated in the workplace. Sexual harassment refers to unwelcoming sexual behaviour. It includes physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature, unwanted sexual advances, sexist remarks, demands or requests for sexual favours and showing pornography. It is true that every individual has the right to life, liberty and equality. This is guaranteed by the country’s Constitution, which is considered to be the supreme law of that country. In the Mauritian Constitution for example, sections 3-19 highlight the protection of human fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. Section 16 precisely protects individuals against discrimination. It is extremely important for employers as well as other responsible persons or institutions to observe certain guidelines to ensure the prevention of sexual harassment at work. Indeed, to live with dignity is a human right guaranteed by our Constitution.It is the duty of the employer in work places to prevent or deter the Commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide the procedure for the resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.

Studies show that mostly women are victims of sexual harassment and unfortunately very few seek redress and little has received encouraging actions (Chaudhuri P. 2006). For instance, there has been a case in India. In 1985 where a woman, named Shehnaz Sani had been dismissed from her job because of wilful negligence. In fact she had complained of sexual harassment from her employers. She was surely granted legal protection and she was also given her previous job. On the other side, however, her harassers which in this case revealed to be her employers, appealed to the Bombay High Court. Consequently, they were granted a stay as well (Chaudhuri P. 2006 adapted from Staff reporter, Tribune, 7 December, 1998; Namita Devidayal,Times of India, 29 November 1998).

Moreover, there is another case where a female employee in a company in Hyderabad. She complained that she was being repeatedly sexually harassed by her supervisor. Her case was being followed by a woman representative from the Head Office of the company (based in the US). Indeed, the harassment was proved but unfortunately, the female employee was seen as a trouble maker. Consequently, she was compelled to resigned and she didi not even benefit from any monetary compensation. In fact, the harasser had great power, authority and influence and hence he was immune to all types of disciplinary committees. He continued to work in the same organisation (Chaudhuri P., 2006 adapted from Kumar, 2003). Moreover, it has been seen that complaints of harassment are very often dismissed as a “trivial matter” and not officially recorded (Chaudhuri P., 2006 Adapted from Sanhita, 2006).

As we can see, these cases prove the fact that among the few cases that women report, there is very less chance of obtaining positive support against sexual harassment. Moreover, the already existing committees have not been able to prove their efficiency- relevant actions are, most of time, not taken against the harasser, especially if he is influential.

In this context, it is not wrong to say that laws should be designed against sexual harassment to protect the employee from the boss, from co-workers or even customers at work. In 2001, Mauritius had taken a step to combat sexual harassment. Indeed, on the 21 March, the Mauritian Minister, who was at the head of the Ministry of women’s affairs and child development and family welfare had publicly promulgated a legislation to impose limitation against female sexual harassment. The aim was to break the silence on subjects which prevented the woman from enjoying her rights. The women were encouraged to denounce such acts. It is true that sex discrimination laws are very effective and efficient in curbing sexual harassment at the workplace.

Sexual harassment can either be Qui Pro Quo or Hostile environment (Hunt C.M et al, 2008). Qui Pro Quo highlights the fact that the harasser explicitly or implicitly make sexual request in exchange for some desired results. However, on the other side, hostile environment explains that sexual harassment occurs when the victim is faced with unwelcome conduct based on his or her sex. Such behaviour can be verbal, non-verbal, visual, or physical. This creates an uncomfortable, intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment.

Prevention is the most effective way to deal with sexual harassment (Sung, 2008). Preventive measures include adopting sexual harassment policies; provide training and establishing complaints processes. All these together help to curb the occurrence of sexual harassment at workplace. A company can also prevent sexual harassment by sponsoring trainings (Sung, 2008 adapted from Bordeaux 2002; Raphan &Heeman, 1997). These training may help employees in dealing with sexual harassment and its consequences. Furthermore, the channel for complaints encourages victims to complain and report and consequently, this will discourage harassers from continuing with their unwanted behaviours.

Problem statement

It is true that no occupation or profession is safe from sexual harassment (Kim and Kleiner, 1999). Sexual harassment continues to be a prevalent issue in workplaces. The frequency shows the seriousness of the problem and also the urgent need to eliminate it.

Studies have shown that women are more prone to sexual harassment (Mathis et al., 1981). There might be several explanations in relation to this statement. Long ago, women were seen as second class citizens. They were victims of gender disparities and female subordination at all levels. They were seen as poor, burdened and loaded with difficulties in the male dominated societies. They were uneducated; hence they were not eligible for white collar jobs. They were able to occupy positions like market women or tea sellers ( Abdel Hamid et al, 2009). Furthermore they were unaware of their rights to equality. Consequently, they were sexually harassed in ways like dirty language and jokes imposed on them while doing work. They had to face sexual harassment mostly every day from noisy customers. The lack of education compels the women to bear these harassments without being able to do anything. They did not know about their rights and the relevant laws.

Another factor which triggers sexual harassment is the values and customs which arise from cultural beliefs. Some cultures support the fact that men occupy superior position than women. The latter, hence, find it normal and accept that men hold condescending entitlements. This highlights gender disparity which in turn, encourages sexual harassment of women. In such situations, female victims choose to remain silent because they know that they will never get justice.

However, even today, despite the fact that there has been emancipation of women, where the latter have become educated, self expressive and aware of laws, there is still sexual exploitation of women. . However we cannot turn a blind eye also to the fact that although less frequent, men can also be victims of sexual harassment. Several studies have revealed that women are also sexually harassing men. Furthermore, nowadays we also find the same sex harassing each other, men harassing men and women harassing women respectively. The majority of cases on sexual harassment which have been reported and brought before the Courts in different countries still show that sexual harassment happens when a person who is in a very powerful position uses his particular position to harass others who are in a vulnerable position. In other words, this would imply that someone who is at the top of the ladder uses his power to continuously trouble another person who is at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder of the organisation. Various international organizations, trade unions, women’s associations and other pressure groups have revealed that sexual harassment is becoming an alarming situation, especially in the field of employment (Crucet et al, 2010).

On the whole sexual harassment affects an individual’s employment, interferes and disturbs the performance. Consequently, an intimidated, offensive and hostile environment come into play. There is a negative impact on productivity as there will be more absenteeism and loss of valuable staff as a result of dissatisfaction at work, low self esteem, frustration and loss of trust. Studies show that apart from causing economic harm, sexual harassment can also have a negative effect on the human psychology. Victims may suffer from various complications like insomnia, depression and loss of interest in the family (Kim and Kleiner, 1999). Whether public or private sector, sexual harassment can be very humiliating and this may lead to health and safety problem. (Chaudhuri P., 2006)

Aims and objectives

The research proposal seeks to investigate the actual situation of sexual harassment at workplace. There are myths relating that sexual harassment occurs mostly to older people because of their economic vulnerability (Kim and Kleiner, 1999). It is also true that sexual harassment is not necessarily limited to sexual desire and physical attractiveness because sexual harassment is used to bully and intimidate the victims. Hence, we can see that no one is safe from this issue. Consequently, the aim of the research is to make people, whether young or old, experienced or inexperienced, new or old to have a better understanding of this issue so that they will be able to combat it effectively if ever they are found in a difficult situation.

We are also aiming to show the reasons, how and why sexual harassment occurs. We are also investigating in the possible consequences and solutions available to combat this issue. It is true that sexual harassment will not halt by simply ignoring it. On the contrary, this ignorance will encourage harassers to continue and even excel in their wrongdoing. We will even try to highlight the fact that when sexual harassment occurs, it is the duty of the employer to protect and support the victims. Studies and journals show that more women are prone to sexual harassment than men. Our study is also aiming to know whether this finding is correct or not.

Moreover, through this study we are trying to know about the company’s policy against sexual harassment and to know whether laws are strict enough to curb sexual harassment. Organisations should reinforce laws for the prohibition of sexual harassment. The latter should be regarded as an offence in workplaces and raise awareness of appropriate disciplinary measures that will be taken against the offender. Indeed, many public and private organisations have not even set up complaints committees. Impartiality in these committees is highly recommended to halt sexual harassment. For example, a third party representative from anti sexual harassment organisations can sit in the committee.

Furthermore, the purpose of our study is to highlight the fact that companies need to have disciplinary measures which will help in reducing sexual harassment and avoid future incidents of this nature in the work place. Discipline should act as a catalyst in the prevention and gradual elimination of sexual harassment. It should be clear to workers that this type of unethical behaviour will not be tolerated at work. There should be different rules to deal with different situations. For example, where minor cases of sexual harassment are concerned, the harasser can be reprimanded and warned. However, in extreme cases, severe disciplinary actions like termination, demotion, reduction of wages, suspension, transfer or reassignment should be taken without any hesitation (The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1999).


Everyone uses information to make decisions about the future. If the information is accurate, there is a high probability of making a good decision. However, if the information is inaccurate, our ability to make a correct decision is diminished. It is true that better information leads to better decision.

Information can be either primary or secondary. Primary data refers to information collected for the specific purpose at hand. On the other hand, secondary data refers to information that already exists to be used for another purpose. In the course of our research, we have made use of both primary and secondary data. Secondary data has been in the form of books, journals and articles from the internet. Our measuring instrument to assess primary data is a written questionnaire.

There are different ways to get primary information. Some of them are: personal questionnaires, talking with people, telephone surveys, E-mail and internet surveys, experiments, focus groups, observation among others.

Research approach- Questionnaire

For the purpose of our research we have opted for personal questionnaires. Indeed the questionnaire is the most efficient way for getting comprehensive information for the study. This method involves interviewing other persons for personal or detailed information. Typically respondents will be required to voluntarily participate by answering questions on the written questionnaire which is simply a list of topics that the research wants to discuss on a certain specific issue. Here, the working people will be asked to determine the factors that influence sexual harassment at the workplace, its nature, how and why it occurs and the possible solutions to this problem.

It is true that internet surveys are the fastest method to carry out surveys. However they might be biased because the results might not be representative of the whole population. Moreover, talking with people is also another way of collecting information but it is more appropriate for business purposes where customers and clients interact with each other for business transactions. Telephone surveys are a bit like questionnaires but the only difference is that it occurs orally. However, we did not consider this option as we know, the working population are very busy with their work loads and they will not bother to give importance to surveys carried out on the telephone. A written questionnaire has a greater impact than the telephone surveys and people will be able to express themselves better.

At the end of the questionnaire, there was another part which was included to gather demographic information of each respondent. It is good to note that their confidentiality and anonymity will be assured. However, if they will refuse to participate, they will be free to do so.

Research Approach- Interview

Apart from gathering quantitative data from the questionnaire, we are also looking forward to collecting qualitative data by interviewing some Human Resource Professionals within both the public and private sectors to know about the actual state of sexual harassment in the workplace. Interview has been chosen as a research method because it is very reliable as we as researchers will be physically in front of the respondents and we will be able to guide them about how to better fill in the questionnaires. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that it might be quite time consuming.


In order to draw conclusions about large groups of individuals, researchers normally study a small sample of the total population. A sample is a limited number of units that closely represents the characteristics of a total population. The purpose of the study is to select representatives of that population.

Samples may be chosen by two different methods:

Probability- including simple random, stratified, cluster and systematic sampling.

Non probability- including convenience, judgmental, quota and snowball.

For the purpose of our study, we have opted for probability sampling. we find that stratified sampling best suits the needs of our research. We will first of all, divide the working population into 2 stratum, that is, private and public sectors. From a total of 22 public ministries and 10 public companies, we will then use simple random sampling to choose 6 ministries and 6 public companies. We are expecting responses from 60 employers and employees, 30 being from the public and 30 from the private. Our survey is targeting workers at all levels and all departments (management, administration, operational, IT). Such a sample is very convenient to satisfy the mission of the research.

Moreover, we will also use convenience sampling for the sake of conducting our interviews. We will select a total of 12 people to interview, 6 being from the public sector and 6 from the private.

Benefits of the research

Indeed, this research is going to be beneficial for a large segment of people. First of all, it will be highly relevant to the working population, both from the public and private sectors. As we have seen earlier, we are targeting employees from both public and private companies. They will be given a broader view of what sexual harassment actually is, how and why it occurs and also how to combat it effectively.

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Furthermore, it is also going to be very relevant to future working populations, that is, to university students who will soon be graduating and eventually having their first steps in employment. Indeed, being new and inexperienced, these fresh graduates normally take some time to adapt to the working environment. Additionally, if they have problems relating to sexual harassment, the first option that they will consider is to resign from their jobs. But this is surely not the best solution. Instead, if they should be taught to better understand the issue and how to curb it within the working environment.

Budget Analysis

List of expenditures

Equivalent Cost (Rs)

Stationery- Paper, paper clips, pens, cover page


Travel expenses


Questionnaires (61)


Black printing


Coloured printing for cover page




Electricity and Internet costs



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