Monday, September 2, 2019

Reflecting on Labor Day: Racial and Gender Harassment in the Workplace

Today is Labor Day, a public holiday celebrating the contributions of workers to the well-being of the United States (DOL).  While we celebrate those contributions, let's also  reflect on the well-being of workers.
            The majority of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with racialized gender stereotypes contributing to a high incidence of sexual harassment of women of color (AWARE 2016; Hernandez 2000).  According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC): “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

            Harassment is a type of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).  It is the responsibility of employers to prevent sexual harassment.  Employers need to monitor their workplaces and take all complaints seriously. 

Just like other forms of sexual abuse and assault:

  • The person targeted for harassment is not to blame
  • Aggressors will try to silence their targets and, when identified, try to shift blame to those they have targeted
  • While we are working collectively to change the culture and social structures that create and perpetuate racial and sexual abuse and assault, we also need to provide women and girls with tools to interrupt harassment in the workplace now.  Important individual tools to interrupt harassment: speaking up, keeping a journal, and getting support from co-workers and, if you have one, your union  (ITUC 2008).
So let’s celebrate Labor Day today but also work together to change the culture and structure of workplaces that perpetuate racial and sexual harassment to an environment that values the well-being of all its workers.
Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Instructor      
AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research).  2016. Workplace Sexual Harassment.

Department of Labor, United States. Nd. History of Labor Day.

EEOC. Nd. Facts about sexual harassment.
Hernandez, Tanya Kateri. 2000. Sexual harassment and racial disparity: The mutual construction of gender and race.

ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation). 2008. Stopping sexual harassment at work.

First published Labor Day 2016

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