Sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination in the workplace often go unreported. As a consequence of non-disclosure agreements or office cultures, there is a lack of transparency and a perceived inability of victims of workplace wrongdoing to speak out.
Take, for example, those subjected to sexual harassment at work. Sexual harassment cases are nothing new within the workplace – they have been occurring for quite some time. However, with recent changes in attitudes towards gender roles and the increased rights of women, married with the omnipresence of the world-wide web, these cases have come under scrutiny more than ever before. Unfortunately, despite the increased attention that sexual harassment cases receive, individuals who have been the victim of sexual harassment may still find themselves unable to speak out about their situation.
This typically occurs when, in the event of a sexual harassment claim, companies offer the plaintiff a settlement – usually a sum of money – in return for their complete silence on the claimed grievance and, more often than not, the guilty party is let off the hook. Although a useful tool for companies seeking to safeguard their public image, these agreements can sometimes restrain employees from reporting discriminatory practices in the workplace for fear of losing their jobs. And as the New York Times reports, the practice fosters the “perception that the settlements are really cover-ups, especially when no disciplinary steps are taken against the perpetrators”, only serving to perpetuate the problem.
Not only are there legal obstacles for victims of sexual harassment to speak openly about their victimization, there are workplace culture issues as well. It has come to be a norm in many workplaces that when something goes wrong, the employees are expected to shield the “’powerful people in the organization,’” (NYT). This has led to a feeling of being muzzled for many victims of sexual harassment who are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.
Sexual harassment is an equal opportunity offense – both men and women are targets in the workplace. Fortunately, state and federal laws are in place to protect workers from sexual harassment on the job regardless of the work culture, because it is simply against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex or take any retaliation against an employee making a claim of such. If you are being sexually harassed at work or are the victim of workplace discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age or another protected class, contact the Davenport Iowa Employment Law Offices of McDonald, Woodward & Carlson PC for help.
Source: New York Times, “Secrecy of Settlements at Fox News Hid Bad Behavior”, By James B. Stewart, August 18, 2016.