The #MeToo movement started in 2017 with a group of actresses coming forward about the misdeeds of movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Most observers would agree that one of the most positive results has been that the long-existing issue of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace against women is now high in the public consciousness. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that women alone don’t make up the victim population.
No one can say for certain how many men are in the same boat. Officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who track complaints say many male victims don’t file complaints out of uncertainty or fear. But one recent CNBC survey found that 10 percent of men have reported being victims of improper conduct. At the same time, the EEOC says nearly one in every five complaints received come from men.
What sexual harassment of men looks like
Because of the #MeToo movement and precedent set by earlier brave women, many have at least some idea of what sexual harassment in the workplace can look like. The picture is not quite as clear when it comes to men. When allegations surface, it’s not pretty, as the following examples show.
- A worker at a Virginia nuclear manufacturing facility tells how he was targeted by a male co-worker over three years, including one incident in which the co-worker unzipped his pants and thrust his crotch toward the victim’s face as he took a drink of water from a fountain.
- A male ironworker in Louisiana alleged he was targeted by his supervisor because he didn’t live up to the boss’s ideal of what it means to be a “rough ironworker.” The boss purportedly called the worker “princess,” and often made lewd comments and gestures to him.
By legal standards, those stories represent unacceptable behavior, and anyone who suspects they’re a victim of possible harassment or discrimination should learn more about their rights and options.
Consulting experienced legal counsel is one way to do that. Other steps include:
- Commit to speaking up. Bad conduct won’t stop if the person responsible for it doesn’t know it’s offensive. By saying something, the offender is on notice and should be aware that further action is possible.
- Learn and follow company procedures for handling such issues. Many employers have policies to fight harassment because they know they are required by law to maintain a work environment free of harassment. Follow them to the letter. If policy calls for you to report infractions to a supervisor and that person is the offender, report to his or her superior.
- Bring in regulators. If following company policy doesn’t yield results, check with an attorney about what avenues exist under federal laws and the laws of your state. In Michigan, this might involve reaching out to the Department of Civil Rights.
- Consider filing suit. This can occur in federal court if the EEOC issues a notice of your right to sue. Your claim of injury doesn’t have to be physical in nature. Emotional distress is injury, too.
Sexual harassment can leave a victim feeling isolated and alone, unsure of what to do. If you are a target of offensive behavior at work, know you do not have to face the trauma by yourself.