Construction workers – fairly or not – are known for their rowdy behavior, especially on construction sites. Catcalling, staring and off-color jokes and remarks are not uncommon. Many women who enter into this field are well aware of the atmosphere and either ignore the behavior or learn to give back in equal measure.
However, as an owner of a contracting firm, you might want to tell your employees to reel it in. Because, even if it’s “just talk,” in some cases it could actually be a serious violation. In other words, that funny joke about the well-endowed blonde one of your guys told the other guys in an attempt to embarrass a female employee, just might be illegal.
There Are Laws…
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination. Making lewd comments and suggestions to female employees is a form of harassment and therefore is a form of discrimination.
Even if the actions never become physical, if a pattern of harassment is established, any woman who feels harassed can file a complaint with human resources, and if she feels she is being ignored, can then file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the EEOC finds that her complaint is valid, you, your company and the employees involved could be cited for violating Title VII.
That could mean fines, the loss of privileged status and the loss of government contracts. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal and you really need to take it seriously.
Ounce of Prevention…
So, how can you prevent this from happening? Well, let’s start with your attitude about sexual harassment. Think about these three questions:
1. Do you think sexually explicit jokes are fine on the job site?
2. Do you make off-color remarks about women you employ?
3. Do you think that women in your industry knew what they were signing up for and therefore should just learn to deal with it?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re part of the problem and need to reexamine your thought processes.
If it was your mother, sister, wife or daughter that was being subjected to these actions, would you still think it was okay? If not, then change your ways because every woman is someone’s daughter, mother, wife, and/or sister. If that’s not enough to convince you, refer to the loss of jobs and fines referred to above.
What Else Can I Do?
Other ways you can quell sexual harassment? Don’t allow the kind of talk or actions that could lead to a complaint or violation.
Let your employees know that you won’t tolerate discriminatory talk or actions on your job sites. If you see or hear something, deal with it immediately. Don’t just brush the incident off and think it was a one-time thing.
If an employee comes to you with an issue or concern, don’t blow it off. Investigate it. Talk to the involved parties and get to the bottom of the issue. And do not allow the person who reported the issue to become the object of retaliation. If you don’t have whistleblower policies, you might want to look into putting those policies in place.
Furthermore, the ramifications for sexual harassment need to be severe and apply to everyone. This isn’t a slap-on-the-wrist, admonish someone for doing such a terrible thing with a wink and a nudge, kind of situation. The punishment needs to be severe enough to be taken seriously.
Sexual harassment needs to become a thing of the past. And although this post has mainly focused on women, other protected groups, such as anyone in the LGBT community, can also file claims of harassment.
Anything that happens that can cause a hostile work environment needs to be addressed and dealt with quickly and without hesitation. This is the best way to ensure a positive and drama-free (okay less dramatic) work environment.