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Harassment: It’s Not Just About Sex

Author: Stratton Date: October 21, 2013

Affiliations, genetic screening, and more emerge among the latest issues.

If you’re on your game at all, you already know about the most common forms of discrimination and harassment: race, religion, disability, sex (including pregnancy). The price for dropping the ball is steep. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission records $43 million in awards in 2012.

You’ve likely taken a course, trained your workers, kept up with the literature. But in recent years, entirely new classes of discrimination have come up. Workers can be harassed and discriminated against in ways you have not even thought of. For example: One in five sexual harassment claims today comes from men, according to the advocacy group AWARE.org. That’s something many employers haven’t prepared for, and it’s just the start.

RELATED: Protect Your Business from Sexual Harassment Charges

Genetic information

Genetic information could potentially be used to weed out candidates in order to keep medical costs in line. Genetic screening isn’t widespread yet, but could become so in the near future. That is going to raise questions. Who can see this data on an individual and how can it be used? It’s an evolving phenomenon, one the EEOC is already tracking, and it’s one worth watching.

Transgender issues

Transgender issues represent a growing, and largely unrecognized, subset of sex discrimination, one many employers aren’t ready to tackle. “It could be a lack of awareness, a lack of education, a lack of understanding the issue,” says Indiana State Rep. Terri J. Austin, who is also an NFIB member. If this is an issue in your workplace, Austin advises, check with the Department Labor or with one of the many advocacy groups, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality. The Center for American Progress says that 90 percent of transgender individuals have reported some discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Affiliations

Affiliations have flown below the radar, generally masked under the heading of political harassment. In fact, putting politics aside, nearly any form of affiliation is a potential touch-point for discrimination. While a resume may reveal an applicant’s affiliation with a political or religious group, it’s a no-go to use it in a way that adversely impacts employment.

RELATED: Religion in the Workplace: What Can I Allow?

Cell phones

Cell phones have spawned a new workplace hazard: Sexting, or sending inappropriate sexual material via text. This is good old-fashioned sexual harassment but wrapped up in a new high-tech package. In additional to the usual training, sexting requires new action, especially in the formulation and enforcement of strict cell phone and tablet rules.

RELATED: Employee Cell Phones: To Own or Not to Own

Surrender of passwords.

Another high-tech trap, some employers are asking potential hires to surrender their social media passwords as part of the vetting process. Several states now bar employers from asking applicants or employees for passwords, moreover, the information you find can easily open a discrimination claim. If Facebook reveals details of a personal life, details you otherwise wouldn’t and shouldn’t know, that information cannot be used to drive a negative hiring decision if doing so violates any of the existing harassment categories. The safest route when it comes to social media: Just don’t do it. When hiring, judge candidates on their professional merits, and leave their private lives alone.

RELATED: Harassment Prevention for Small Business Owners: What You Don't Know or Aren't Doing Can Hurt You

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