Sexual harassment in the workplace - what is it?

Posted at 3:03 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 18:27:53-04

Now that several high-profile sexual harassment cases have come to light during 2017, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO Buffalo-Niagara) believes the publicity will help empower victims to speak up and send a warning to business owners to ensure a "hostile-free" workplace.

But what exactly is sexual harassment in the workplace? 

Attorney and NAWBO member Lisa Coppola explained there are two types.  The more blatant is "quid pro quo" where a job is promised in return for a sexual favor.  Those are the allegations that are now alleged against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

However, the most common form of workplace sexual harassment exists when there is a "hostile workplace."  That is a situation when a person is subjected to sexual jokes, inuendo, intimidation, physical violence or other forms of unwanted physical contact.

NAWBO warns business owners that employers can be held liable for the sexual harassment actions of an employee.  Marcia Brogan, NAWBO president, said it is important for businesses to implement steps to ensure that "integrity and character" are upheld in the workplace.

Not only does sexual harassment emotionally traumatize a victim, but it also affects an employee's performance.

Brogan emphasizes that employers need to have the proper insurance to cover any lawsuits resulting from allegations of sexual harassment, because the legal costs can reach into the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.

Complaints of sexual harassment should first be directed to the company which is prevented by law from retaliating. If unsuccessful, complaints can be filed with the NYS Division of Human Rights https://dhr.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/complaint-form.pdf or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly talks more with members of NAWBO about the recent rash of high-profile sexual harassment cases and how it could have long-term impacts.