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Power Harassment: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Research Paper


Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual behaviors or advances. In a workplace, sexual favors or related behavior is also considered sexual harassment. The use of sexual words as well as physical advances of a similar nature, qualifies as sexual harassment.

According to Snyder, Scherer & Fisher (2012), sexual harassment is considered as oral, physical and sexual behavior expressed by a person. In a workplace, sexual harassment ranges from one employee to another or from a superior to a junior worker. In most cases, sexual harassment in the workplace is used as a form of intimidation based on the victim’s gender.

There are instances when sexual harassment is conducted through employment decisions. In addition, any sexual conduct that interferes with an individual’s work performance due to intimidation or creates a hostile working environment is considered sexual harassment (Snyder, Scherer & Fisher, 2012).

For any behavior to be considered sexual harassment, the victim must not consent to the unwanted advances. From a legal perspective, subjection of the worker victim to sexual behavior is termed as an unwelcome behavior. In most cases, unwelcome behavior with sexual connotations ranges from a request for a date, comment or a joke.

There are several forms of sexual harassment. For example, attempted rape, assault, gestures, kissing, unwanted letters and gifts are considered unwanted sexual advances. Sexual harassment in the form of verbal behavior includes whistling, sexual jokes, comments and fantasies.

Non-verbal acts of sexual harassment include staring at someone, stalking and suggestive sexual gestures. On the other hand, sexual harassment is considered physical when the victim is subjected to touching, massaging, hugging or rubbing oneself against another person.

According to Keyton & Menzie (2007), any behavior that obstructs an employee’s movement and ability to perform usual task can be categorized as sexual harassment. For example, body contact, physical assault, pictures, sexual posters and drawings can hinder an employee’s ability to perform optimally (Keynes & Menzie, 2007).

The extent of sexual harassment in the workplace is a global employment issue. In this context, sexual harassment is perceived and practiced differently around the world (Tudor, 2010). However, the concept of sexual harassment has been termed an ethical issue where perpetrators forego moral principles and standards.

Nonetheless, sexual harassment is also conducted as a way of intimidating and obtaining the affluence in the workplace. There are instances, where sexual harassment is used as a way of obtaining physical pleasure. In this case, victims of sexual harassment are used as sex objects by the perpetrators.

From a legal perspective, sexual harassment is evil and is discouraged all over the world. Although the implications of sexual harassment are universal in nature, policies and legal approaches on the topic are different among countries.

The impact of sexual harassment among employees is devastating from a psychological and social perspective. The vice violates the moral of conduct in the workplace and should attract a hefty punishment (Tudor, 2010).

Impact of Sexual Harassment in the Place of Work

The impact of sexual harassment in the workplace can be detrimental to the employee and the organization from a legal and financial perspective. In most cases, employees have the right to claim sexual harassment using the federal law on the same. In this context the use of Quid Pro Quo (QPQ) and hostile work environment under the Title VII of the federal law is considered.

Quid pro quo

The QPQ is considered when an employee or victim of sexual harassment quotes a person of authority to have requested or made sexual demands. In most cases, a senior person in the workplace demands sexual favors from the subordinates in order to be treated fairly (Mainiero & Jones, 2013a).

In other instances, employers or superiors intimidate junior employees with employment termination if no sexual favors are accorded. As indicated earlier, QPQ occurs when job benefits as promotion, salary increment and employee’s performance are in question. In addition, QPQ is applied when job termination is a result of rejection of sexual advances from the superiors (Mainiero & Jones, 2013a).

From a legal perspective, QPQ sexual harassment is termed as abuse of power. The law also classifies QPQ as a form of sex discrimination targeted at employees with less influence. Labor laws discourage the QPQ sexual harassment by terming it a violation of labor law and regulations. Violations of human rights through sexual harassment are legally banned under the law of tort.

The law allows the victims of sexual harassment to prove that the heinous act occurred with an objective to discriminate against an individual. However, this legal requirement is recommended once a case for sexual harassment is established by an employee or claimant. On the other hand, employers are held liable by the law for allowing sexual harassment to take place within the workplace.

The law acknowledges the fact that managers and senior personnel act directly on behalf of the employer. The impact of sexual harassment in the workplace results to unnecessary legal battles and financial compensations once the law establishes and confirms the case.

The law requires that victims of QPQ sexual harassment be compensated in terms of medical expenses. Additional compensations to the victim by the employer include the loss of enjoyment of life and future economic loss. Although the above remedies are not punitive, employers are subjected to heavy financial compensations that could have been avoided by the managers.

The law also applies punitive measures if the case of QPQ sexual harassment is determined to have been conducted on malice and recklessness. In such a case, a sexual harassment perpetrator and employer is subjected to criminal investigations and subsequent prison term (Mainiero & Jones, 2013a).

Hostile work environment

The second impact of sexual harassment is a hostile work environment (Mainiero & Jones, 2013b). A hostile work environment is caused by unwelcome advances and gender-elated abuse that is severe in nature as perceived by law. The law terms a workplace to be a hostile work environment once the conditions are deemed uncomfortable to the employee.

The law advises employees to seek legal justice if sexual harassment is subjected an employee of the same gender. An example of conduct that constitutes to hostile work environment is sexual favoritism directed to another employee. Although sexual favoritism may be consensual, the impact of allowing sexual affairs in the workplace is distractive and uninspiring among the employees.

A legal claim of a hostile workplace must establish that the victim was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances. In addition, the victim must prove that the harassment was sex-oriented and was severe to the extent of violating the conditions of employment. Finally, the victim must prove the employer’s liability by establishing the perpetrator-employer relationship.

The impact of a hostile working place is that employees are uncomfortable working in the setting and feel violated (Mainiero & Jones, 2013b). In this regard, the workplace’s public image is tinted. An employer’s liability to enforce ethical standards and policies in the workplace is a requirement in most countries around the world.

Employees’ performance and productivity in a hostile workplace are negatively affected by unwanted sexual behaviors. The challenge of an organization in dealing with other organizations and the community is strenuous due to sexual harassment cases (Mainiero & Jones, 2013b).

The psychological impact of sexual harassment on employees is devastating if legal and ethical interventions are not implemented on time. However, prolonged sexual harassment on employees causes both short and long-term psychological effects. Short-term effects include anger and dissatisfaction with the employment. The employee’s confidence at the workplace dwindles with time.

Sometimes, the employee develops withdrawal syndromes as he or she avoids the workplace by calling in sick frequently. The probability of a sexually harassed employee experiencing panic attacks, low interest and depression is high.

The long-term effects of sexually-harassed employee are panic attacks and depression. Ultimately, an employee may consider changing career if the sexual harassment is not detected. In most cases, prolonged sexual harassment renders an employee to take legal action.

Additional impacts

Sexual harassment is associated with hefty costs on companies and personnel. Employing organizations lose money due to reducing productivity and low employee morale. In addition, organizations lose valuable staff that resign and seek employment elsewhere due to constant sexual harassment. The cost of bad decisions by managers and superiors who permit and perpetrate sexual harassment is costly.

Since some of the sexual harassment cases are subjected to legal procedures, employers and organizations incur hefty legal costs. Majority of industrial courts around the world are known of requesting hefty compensation for the victims.

Moreover, victims of sexual harassment incur personal costs if the vice is not interfered by a prevention and protection program or legal procedures. Personal costs as a result of sexual harassment is defined in terms of distress, low confidence, slow career development and personal growth, poor productivity and lack of trust.

Ethical theories


Deontology theory of ethics expects individuals to uphold the obligation of duty. The issue of sexual harassment has never been a moral duty or obligation in the workplace. Therefore, perpetrators of sexual harassment do not act directly on behalf of the employers’ directives. In any case, if the employer allows such actions by the respective managers or supervisors, he or she is held liable by the judicial system.

According to the deontology theory, both the employer and respective managers have a moral duty to protect the employees from harm and harassment. In this regard, fellow employees are bound by the moral duty to report about acts of sexual harassment committed to other workers, irrespective of the consequences and context surrounding the perceived actions.

The deontology theory is significant in establishing ethical and moral issues surrounding the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace (McDonald, 2012). As indicated earlier, sexual harassment in the workplace is approached differently by various countries. There are countries where penetrative sexual acts are considered immoral.

On the other hand, there are countries that do not have strict laws against non-penetrative sexual acts committed in the workplace. In such scenarios, the use of law to determine the obligation to duty as implied by the deontological theory is difficult. Therefore, there is a high prevalence of sexual harassment in countries with no laws against non-penetrative sexual acts in the workplace.

The universal moral duty according to the deontology theory is to treat other people as one would like others to do to him or her (Seaquist, 2012). Although the issue of sexual harassment may lack strict regulations in some countries, the moral obligation to provide a favorable working environment is vital. The application of deontological theory reveals loopholes surrounding the issue of sexual harassment.

In this context, the need to improve work ethics and moral standards in the workplace becomes paramount. It is the goal of an organization to achieve maximum productive from motivated employees who do not feel intimidated, distracted and violated of their rights.


Consequentialism is a theory of ethics that suggests the moral judgment of an action is based on the consequences. Consequentialism theory upholds that the idea of morality is to spread happiness. Therefore, sexual harassment in the workplace does not cause happiness to everyone (Hunt, Davidson, Fielden & Hoel, 2010).

In any case, the consequences of hurting someone through sexual advances do not only affect the victim, but people in the surrounding. However, consequentialism disregards some actions whose consequence may not lead to everyone’s happiness. In this regard, sexual actions that do not affect the happiness of others in the workplace are considered moral by the consequentialist theory (Hershcovis & Barling, 2010).

Apparently, consequentialism follows a set of rules that enable actions to be considered right. Therefore, if there is set of rules in the workplace, frequent sexual harassment is rendered morally right by other employees. Nonetheless, it is necessary to establish a set of rules to control moral issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace is necessary.


As indicated earlier, laws related to sexual harassment in the workplace varies by jurisdiction (Ramakrishnan, 2011). The jurisdiction depends on the aspect of law quoted in respect to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sometimes, the jurisdiction of the law applied depends on the country. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be discussed under the federal law commonly referred as the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is part of the United States EEO laws that protect human rights for all. In this regard, the Civil Rights Act is categorical about discrimination of workers based on sex, age and race.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is categorical about employment practices in the United States. In this context, Title VII prohibits employers from practicing discrimination activities that are based on gender, race and color (Hagen II, 2011). In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits same-sex harassment or activities that provide a hostile environment for such employees.

The federal EEO laws advocate equal pay among the employees irrespective of the gender. The Equal pay Act in Title VII implies that employees that are performing similar work must be paid the same remuneration.

The law prohibits an employer from discriminating women who perform the same work as the men irrespective of the effort and possible maternal leave. A violation of the law can lead to an industrial legal process initiated by the labor union or the discriminated employee.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act advises victims of sexual harassment to seek legal help through the labor or civil courts.


The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is both immoral and illegal. The current labor laws have been reformed to protect human rights. Reviewing how employees suffer both psychologically and finically is necessary for understanding the negative impact of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Therefore, strengthening of labor unions that punish perpetrators of sexual harassment is critical in curtailing the vice. In order to reduce liability exposure emanating from sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to establish a policy against the vice (Clinton, 2010). In this regard, the prevalence of the vice in the workplace should be taken seriously by the employer.

Raising awareness about the vice and how it should be prevented in the workplace is necessary. Raising awareness can be conducted through staff meetings, sexual training sessions and use of anti-sexual harassment posters and reading materials. Developing and implementing a sexual harassment policy that is consistent with the federal EEO laws is critical.

The anti-sexual harassment policy should aim at creating a favorable working environment, as well as, encouraging appropriate moral conduct by managers. Finally, the anti-sexual harassment policy should outline measures taken to handle Quid Pro Quo complaints.


Clinton, M. S. (2010). Sexual harassment in the workplace: Are human resource professionals victims? Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 14(1), 33-49.

Hagen II, W. W. (2011). Dissection and Analysis of the Recent Cases on Employment Discrimination Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 23(3), 171-186.

Hershcovis, M. S., & Barling, J. (2010). Comparing victim attributions and outcomes for workplace aggression and sexual harassment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5), 874.

Hunt, C. M., Davidson, M. J., Fielden, S. L., & Hoel, H. (2010). Reviewing sexual harassment in the workplace–an intervention model. Personnel Review, 39(5), 655-673.

Keyton, J., & Menzie, K. (2007). Sexually harassing messages: Decoding workplace conversation. Communication Studies, 58(1), 87-103.

Mainiero, L., & Jones, K. (2013a). Sexual harassment versus workplace romance: Social media spillover and textual harassment in the workplace. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(3), 187-203.

Mainiero, L., & Jones, K. (2013b). Workplace romance 2.0: Developing a communication ethics model to address potential sexual harassment from inappropriate social media contacts between coworkers. Journal of business ethics, 114(2), 367-379.

McDonald, P. (2012). Workplace sexual harassment 30 years on: A review of the literature. International Journal of Management Reviews, 14(1), 1-17.

Ramakrishnan, K. B. (2011). Inconsistent legal treatment of unwanted sexual advances: A study of the homosexual advance defense, street harassment, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Berkeley J. Gender L. & Just., 26(2), 291-355.

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

Snyder, J. A., Scherer, H. L., & Fisher, B. S. (2012). Social organization and social ties: Their effects on sexual harassment victimization in the workplace. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, 42(1), 137-150.

Tudor, T. (2010). Global Issues of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Franklin Business & Law Journal, 1(4), 51-57.

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"Power Harassment: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace." IvyPanda, 22 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/power-harassment-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Power Harassment: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace." June 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/power-harassment-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Power Harassment: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace'. 22 June.

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