Harassment Hotline

November 23, 2009

Should employers be responsible if their employees harass women in public, while the employee is on the job?

Recently I read Deborah Thompson’s article “‘The Woman in the Street:’ Reclaiming the Public Space from Sexual Harassment” (a 1994 article in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism) and I like her ideas on this topic.

“While Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination] was never intended to apply outside the workplace, its hostile environment principles provide a useful framework from which to develop a liability regime to protect all women who are street harassed by ‘men at work.’

This regime would hold employers vicariously liable for public sexual harassment by their employees if the employer failed to warn workers that street harassment is intolerable, failed to implement as system by which members of the public could formally file a complaint, or failed to take remedial action when members of the public complained about harassment by their employees.

It would be relatively easy to develop a complaint procedure for street harassment. For example, instead of signs on the back of company trucks that read, ‘How’s my driving, call 1-800-555-1212,’ trucks and taxis could display signs that read, ‘If the driver of this vehicle harasses you, call 1-800-555-1212.’

Similarly at construction sites, there should be a number for women to call to complain about harassment by workers. Such a ‘Harassment Hotline’ would be a first step in ending the hostile environment of outdoor workplaces.

It would send a valuable message that a particular company cares about its image and does not tolerate workers who invade and bombard communities with sexual harassment…

In sum, the societal interest of promoting the privacy, safety, mobility, and equality of women should outweigh the desire of employees to engage in recreational sexual harassment while on the job.”

What do you think?

Here are two stories submitted by contributors who were able to report a harassing man or men to the employer and meet with success. And it would be even easier to make these kinds of reports if the number to call regarding harassment was prominently posted.