Sexual harassment in the workplace is bigger than Fox News, which has been engulfed in two sexual harassment scandals in less than a year. Harassment is a reality that goes unchecked every day in private companies and public institutions across the country.
Because too many bosses refuse to deal with it.
Let’s start with Fox News, the conservative news channel.
Parent company 21st Century Fox cut ties Wednesday with Bill O’Reilly, the top-rated host in cable news, less than three weeks after the New York Times detailed payments totaling about $13 million made by O’Reilly or the company since 2002 to settle accusations of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct (think verbal abuse).
President Donald Trump defended O’Reilly after the New York Times report came out, and fans stayed loyal to his program, “The O’Reilly Factor.” But advertisers fled after the public outcry, and that couldn’t be ignored by Rupert Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, or his sons, who also are top executives.
The O’Reilly scandal came less than a year after Fox News ousted chairman Roger Ailes and agreed to pay $20 million on his behalf to former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, who had sued Ailes for sexual harassment.
Other women came forward with allegations against Ailes in an internal investigation, prompting the company to promise a zero-tolerance for “behavior that disrespects women.” But O’Reilly’s alleged transgressions still got a pass until advertisers had had enough.
A failure to address sexual harassment or discipline predator employees is hardly exclusive to Fox News, and the problem does not necessarily cut more to the right than left.
The startup culture of Silicon Valley, for all its self-conscious social liberalism, still seems to operate under the good ol’ boy rules of the 1950s. In February, former Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler wrote about harassment she experienced at the company in a powerful essay that she began by recounting messages from a manager who said he was looking for someone to have sex with (hint, hint).
Sterling Jewelers, which owns Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, has faced allegations by hundreds of former employees of top managers pressuring female employees to have sex for pay raises or better jobs, according to arbitration documents obtained by the Washington Post.
And Fox News, Uber and Sterling Jewelers are just recent highly publicized cases. In 2015 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collected $164.5 million for workers who had alleged harassment.
In the last four months, according to the EEOC’s website, the agency has brought or resolved charges against a farm labor contractor in California, restaurants in Phoenix, tour companies in Hawaii, Dollar General Stores Inc., a precious metals dealer in Washington state and Costco Wholesale Inc.
In the case against Costco, a federal jury awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages in December to a former Costco employee for harassment she endured while working in a Glenview warehouse. In that case, a male customer harassed and stalked the employee but the store didn’t take appropriate steps to protect her, according to the EEOC.
In Chicago, hotel housekeepers — most of them women — want the city to enact an ordinance providing them safety measures, such as requiring hotels to issue them panic buttons to alert security when a guest behaves in a threatening manner or makes sexual advances. Fifty-eight percent of hotel workers surveyed in the fall by Unite Here Local 1 said they had been sexually harassed by a guest.
Our question: Why haven’t hotels been more proactive in protecting their most vulnerable workers? Is it because it puts them in an awkward position of calling the authorities on predator guests? Where are their priorities?
The reality, disappointingly, is that most people who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never come forward. A study the EEOC published last year found that three out of four workers who experience sexual harassment do not report it to bosses because they fear retaliation or that they will not be believed. Among their biggest fears is that the boss will do nothing.
The EEOC has issued guidelines to help employers foster a professional environment in which harassment is not tolerated. It’s not that tough, folks. It starts with respect.
And whether it’s Bill O’Reilly, a hot-shot Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a predatory hotel guest, nobody is above the law or common decency.
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