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Sexual harassment in the workplace often kept quiet

Under California law, anyone that feels they are experiencing harassment in the workplace is entitled to seek compensation and protection in their place of employment. Since the passage of the 1991 Civil Rights Act, this legislation has lead to more people assuming the courage required to speak out against their employer when sexual harassment in the workplace occurs. However, there are fewer complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and that number is steadily dropping.

It appears this may be simply due to the fact that companies have stricter policies in place in terms of keeping it under wraps, by implementing arbitration agreements at the time employees are hired. Due to the increased public awareness of sexual harassment, many companies today are requiring new employees to sign documentation agreeing to arbitration if sexual harassment were to occur. In many cases, this signed documentation is a condition for getting a job. Should harassment occur, arbitration proceedings occur rather than the individual suing the company, and these proceedings are confidential as are any settlements associated with the outcomes.

A California based lawyer whose high profile clients include Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, says that looking at the number of claims filed with the EEOC today is not an accurate reflection of the true number of cases involving sexual harassment in the workplace. One of her current clients is one of the women that have accused a current Republican candidate of harassment. Another lawyer out of Washington concurs, stating that the kinds of claims are changing as well. Rather than seeing claims regarding quid pro quo sexual harassment, sexual favors in return for a promotion, there are more claims regarding egregious harassment that may include suggestive emails or inappropriate text messages.

2004 California legislation now requires sexual harassment training every two years for companies that have more than 50 employees. Although many employees may not like being forced into arbitration over a sexual harassment claim, the upside is that it will help victims get a faster resolution to their complaint. Even so, many professionals that deal specifically with this issue feel this hush-hush may be supporting a bias that protects the perpetrators. The very likelihood that there will be another victim even following arbitration is entirely possible, as has occurred with the alleged sexual harassment of Republican candidate Cain. Even so, today's workers do have protection under the law and should never feel their voice must be hushed in these matters.

Source: The SFGate News, "Harassment claims often settled confidentially," Jeff Green, Nov. 20, 2011

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