Sexual Harassment and our Undemocratic Workplaces

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, November 27, 2017

…. In many cases there are no witnesses to the offending conduct, and rank-and-file workers generally have little reason to believe that top management will take their word over the word of a supervisor. A union grievance procedure at least gives workers an opportunity to appeal to a neutral decision maker. But in a non-union setting, it is rare, if not unheard of, for an internal process to end with the equivalent of a truly independent judge or jury.

Providing training about “dos” and “don’ts” is not going to end sexual harassment unless employers also take steps to democratize the workplace. At-will employment, the norm in most workplaces, creates an environment that makes harassment more likely. If workers can be disciplined or fired for any reason, they know that workplace survival depends upon currying favor with their boss. ….

…. If we wanted to stop a dictator from abusing the citizens of his country, we wouldn’t just give him a lecture about human rights. Instead, we would work to build democratic institutions in the country. But the basic elements of democracy that we take for granted in this country – the right to free speech, one person, one vote, the right to due process – are absent in most workplaces. If we as a society are committed to addressing the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s time to change that. ….