Sexual harassment and abusive conduct in the workplace is a persistent problem that can affect anyone. Men can be the target of sexual harassment, too. Nearly one in five — almost 17% — of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) comes from men, according to a recent Washington Post article.
And like all harassment, many incidents of male sexual harassment go unreported, either out of embarrassment or fear of retaliation. However, there are several EEOC cases when male employees did report sexual harassment, and the employer ended up paying a significant settlement to resolve the case.
In 2014, a car dealership in New Mexico agreed to pay over $2 million to settle a same-sex sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit. The EEOC charged that the dealership’s management targeted and encouraged sexual harassment of over 50 male employees for more than a decade. The conduct included offensive sexual comments, frequent solicitations for sex, and regular touching, grabbing and biting of male workers. The EEOC also alleged that the company retaliated against male employees who objected to the sexually hostile work environment.
Commenting on the case and the $2 million settlement, the EEOC general counsel said it “raises awareness that all employees, male and female, are entitled to work in an environment free of sexual harassment and retaliation.”
Another case filed last year charges a restaurant with discriminating against a male dishwasher with autism by subjecting him to a hostile work environment based on his disability and sex. The EEOC alleges a male assistant manager repeatedly called the male dishwasher a “retard” and “stupid,” requested sex, threatened to sexually assault him and subjected him to unwanted physical contact. The dishwasher asked to be moved to a different shift but later resigned after he was assigned to work with the same assistant manager, who continued to harass him.
While rarely reported, women can also be the perpetrator of harassment and retaliation. Last fall, the EEOC charged a fast-food Mexican restaurant with allowing a female general manager to sexually harass a 22-year-old male shift manager. He was the target of verbal and physical harassment by his female supervisor, including discussing her own sex life and frequently groping and propositioning him. After he reported her behavior to upper management, the general manager continued to harass and retaliate against him, forcing him to quit. The case is not yet settled.
Sexual harassment continues to generate headlines, lawsuits and workplace conversations, as more individuals speak up about their experiences with harassment and retaliation. A takeaway message for HR is to ensure that your anti-harassment training and policies clearly communicate that anyone can be a harasser or target, and anyone can be affected by a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment, in all its forms, is not limited to any specific sex or gender. And while many cases involve an individual being harassed by their direct supervisor, the harasser can also be a subordinate, co-worker, or someone who’s not an employee, such as a vendor or customer. Regardless of your industry, job title or gender, sexual harassment affects everyone and requires all employees to do their part to address and prevent it.