Unless you have been living under a rock, then you know that sexual harassment in the workplace has been a hot topic of late, thanks chiefly to the claims and accusations which have been directed at Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain by a handful of women. A day has not gone by in the last few weeks where the story has not made some sort of headline. Its a sensational story and the news media is obviously having a field day with it. The problem with sensational stories is that they often tend to trivialize the topic which they are talking about. For instance, regardless of whether Mr. Cain engaged in such behavior or not, the fact that such claims have been made against him has given the green light for media types and others to start in on familiar themes which have persisted over the years, and that is that sexual harassment is no real big deal, doesn’t really exist, and is instigated by women who cannot take a joke or are just looking for a payday.
For example, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky commented that men can no longer tell jokes in work place out of fear that women may misunderstand. Well known radio host Laura Ingraham opined that sexual harassment cases always end up being about an employee who can’t perform… “and is looking for a little green.” I’ve read and listened to other comments along the lines of “does anyone believe sexual harassment is even real?” and “it may have been a problem a decade ago, but its not anymore”. The reality is sexual harassment is real, still affects both men and women in the workplace today, and is not just about inappropriate jokes in the workplace.
The misconception being floated around and insinuated by all these comments is that one unwanted touch by a co-worker can lead to an accusation of sexual harassment that leads to a lawsuit. The truth is the bar for winning a case on the grounds of sexual harassment is pretty high. Typically the actions must be severe and continue over a period of time even after complaint has been made through appropriate channels at work. Thus, most of the time, one or two incidents does not a case make.
But of course, it makes for a much better story for the media if they can just fall back on the stereotypes and themes we all know, especially when the claims and accusations involve a political figure in the spotlight.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment is no laughing matter and is all too real for some who are trying to just make a living by going to work each day.