In a very unusual and unheard case of sexual assault at workplace that is currently doing rounds of the digital media, Maria Zhang, Yahoo’s top-level Executive has been accused of having forced her female sub-ordinate Nan Shi to engage in oral and digital sex with her while they shared the company apartment and threatening Shi of dismissal in case of refusal. In her complaint, Shi says that when she disapproved of Zhang’s advances, her performance reviews were wrongly pulled down; she was detached from important projects and assigned lesser roles. The accused however, has counter-sued Shi on account of defamation and claims that Shi was under-performing and has cooked up this story as a last attempt to save her job. Yahoo conducted an internal investigation in the matter but found no evidence to validate Shi’s complaint. The company in fact stands by Zhang and asserts of her being an exemplary employee.
Making unwanted sexual advances, demanding sexual favors under threats, and any other physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature amount to sexual harassment. Such behavior interferes with employees’ work performance and also creates an intimidating and offensive work environment. To ensure that organizations don’t lose good employees to harassment, to maintain the dignity of each employee at the workplace and to minimize their financial liability that comes in form of pay-out, many organizations are introducing harassment training programs in workplaces. These training programs can not only help in dealing with sexual harassment in a stronger manner but also help prevent it. Through such programs a prospective victim is educated about company policies, complaint mechanisms, and general laws against harassment as well as techniques to identify and stop a sexual assault the very first time it takes place. On the other hand, a prospective perpetrator can be warned about the possible consequences of such conduct in a very subtle yet strict manner. These training programs can also help employers become more responsive to sexual harassment occurrences and more responsible to take immediate and appropriate action.
Sexual Harassment at workplaces is an epidemic that inflicts societies across the globe and according to a recent survey, 60% of the victims never speak because of the fear of retribution. Every year, approximately 15,000 complaints of sexual harassment are made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Link: http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-at-work/workplace-sexual-harassment/) In 2013, state and federal agencies received more than 30,000 complaints alleging harassment on the job while the actual number is much higher. (Link:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/09/workplace-sexual-harassment-loophole) According to the EEOC, apart from the increasing number of sexual harassment complaints filed by women, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has also more than tripled in the recent years. These numbers are incredibly alarming. It’s not only a common workplace experience among women, but also an increasing source of worry of being falsely accused, among men.
In case of Maria Zhang and Nan Shi, whether the allegations were fabricated or the negative performance reviews were fabricated; only time and jury will tell. But had there been sufficient amount of training on sexual harassment, this matter could have been dealt with in a more dignified manner and the reputation of all the stake holders could have been protected. Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace and prevention can only come with proper training.