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Harassment on the Job: It's no Longer Just the Women Complaining

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St. Petersburg, FLHarassment in the workplace has been around for as long as the work environment itself, and unfortunately will probably never go away, so long as there are those who find some particular joy in causing someone else - usually a subordinate - to feel uncomfortable, or worse.

anemia testBut the environment has been slowly changing. As women have joined the men on the assembly line, or in the trenches on the stock floor, harassment of any kind -- sexual, or otherwise -- is no longer tolerated and can be the source for litigation. Employers increasingly have strict policies and guidelines in place, warding off behaviour that was once a tradition on the shop floor, but is now considered rude and distasteful. Usually, for someone on the giving end of harassment, it's grounds for dismissal.

And still, the world continues to evolve. Traditionally, complaints of harassment were heard almost exclusively from women, no longer wishing to put up with lewd behaviour, crude language, physical touching -- the list goes on.

However, in the last few years, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has documented a marked rise in complaints from men.

In a report released in April of this year, the EEOC noted that harassment-based job discrimination complaints are on the rise again after four years. One-third of those complaints were gender-based harassment. And here's the interesting statistic: 15.4 per cent of harassment cases - a record - were filed by men. Of those, the majority of male complainants alleged harassment by other men.

That's exactly what happened to Marcus Dixon, a forklift operator from St. Petersburg Florida, who operated a forklift truck at a furniture store. Ten months after being hired, he finally complained about the crude language and sexual innuendo from his immediate supervisor, who directed a daily dose of off-colour jokes and expletives either at, or in the presence of Dixon.

A private conversation with the offensive colleague had no effect, so Dixon went to the boss. However it was Dixon who lost his job. He has filed a complaint with the EEOC and is suing the store.

Lest you think there's been a rise in predatory women of power, it appears that the majority of complaints from men centre on harassment by other men.

The EEOC reports 958 complaints from men were made in 1992. Last year that number doubled to 1,843. Specific language in the complaint, along with anecdotal evidence, appears to reveal that most harassment of men by men centres on gender stereotyping. In other words, a male may not conform to accepted notions of masculinity.

Some companies have been called to the carpet for allowing this kind of behaviour to continue unabated. A packing company was forced to pay out U.S. $1.9 million dollars in 1999 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by male meatpacking employees who felt harassed while on the job.

An automotive chain in Colorado was hit with a U.S. $500,000 directive to settle claims from ten former salesmen who objected to a litany of course, sexual jokes while on the job.

And harassment doesn't have to be sexual in nature. In Minneapolis, the trendy Chino Latino restaurant is paying out $325,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit by Hispanic employees complaining of harassment, basically, just for being Hispanic.

At the end of the day, harassment is harassment. It might be sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional. It could centre on your sexuality, your religion and beliefs, even your sense of right from wrong. For most employers, there is no allowance for harassment of any kind, and it's usually the culprits doing the harassing who are asked to leave, or at the very least, made to atone for their actions.

For those harassed, the law is very clear. And for the men who feel harassed on the job by other men, legal precedent has swung your way. Ever since 1998, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that male-on-male sexual harassment constituted a violation of civil rights, men who have felt victimized by other male co-workers have been taking their complaints beyond their employer, and several settlements have ensued.

So the next time you are tempted to tell the guys at work the one about...well, you know....

Think twice.

And if you're the type of guy who just won't stand for unnecessary crudeness at work, you don't have to take it. Let them continue cussing up and down the shop floor.

You just might be laughing all the way to the bank.

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