In one way, workplace sexual harassment cases are very personal: Some cases involve just one worker who was victimized by one supervisor or another employee.
But in another way, sexual harassment can damage an entire organization. Our blog recently wrote about how rampant sexual harassment can lead to a hostile work environment, which affects much of the workforce. This damage can continue to hold an organization back long after the legal action is over.
Aftermath of harassment at the CSU system
In the wake of a major sexual harassment scandal, the California State University system has been struggling to rebuild trust between administrators, employees, faculty and students.
The scandal at Fresno State University ultimately led to the resignation of a chancellor, but critics say the problem went much further. They say many leaders in the administration failed to do anything to stop the harassment. This has led to lingering resentments and mistrust.
A law firm hired to report on the situation told the CSU system it must work to rebuild broken trust. Unions representing CSU employees have said the system needs to do more than that. They have suggested that many top administrators must be replaced.
Hostile work environment
In a legal sense, “hostile work environment” refers to a type of harassment based on sex that is severe and pervasive. It doesn’t necessarily target one employee in particular, but rather creates an atmosphere in which the unwelcome activity is nearly inescapable.
When lawyers talk about hostile work environment, they are typically talking about a cause of action for a lawsuit. If a worker has been discriminated against in a sexually hostile work environment, they may have the right to file a lawsuit, and can recover damages.
But stories like the one in the CSU system serve as reminders that the damage isn’t just to individual employees. This kind of harassment can cause lasting damage to an organization, all its workers and the people it is meant to serve.