The #MeToo movement has the country taking a fresh look at sexual harassment in workplaces though some protection laws have been in place for decades.
The White Plains City School District -- which employs 1,300 staff at nine schools -- has "many checks and balances" in place including a board policy outlining the expected behaviors of all members of the educational community, said White Plains Public Schools Superintendent of Schools Joseph L. Ricca, Ed.D.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government, and of course schools.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is: "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."
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- The victim, as well as the harasser, may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex from the harasser.
- The harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee, such as a vendor or a customer.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
New York State Labor Law, since October 2018, requires all employers to adopt a sexual harassment policy that includes a complaint form for employees to report alleged incidents of sexual harassment.
State school districts have adopted measures to comply with the law.
"Harassment (sexual and otherwise) is a serious offense and, at all times, inappropriate. Employees are educated annually regarding sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Employees have the ability to contact administrative support in the event that harassment is suspected," said Ricca.
All staff in the White Plains district receive annual training related to sexual harassment in the workplace and other mandated training including provided face-to-face setting, online and by third-parties.
One of the ways the district works to create a positive workplace and culture for employees is by setting clear expectations for positive interactions and behaviors and communicate those expectations in a clear and regular manner.
"Healthy school climates/cultures always benefit students. We must be sure that all members of the educational community are supported and recognize their import and value. This positivity will naturally impact the student and overall school community," said Ricca.
He added that White Plains and other school districts are great models for employers because, "We are governed by law and have clear requirements for training, reporting and amelioration of identified issues."