Coming to Terms with Zero Tolerance Sexual Harassment Policies
Margaret S. Stockdale
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale - Department of Psychology
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) - Department of Psychology
Barbara A. Gutek
University of Arizona - Department of Management and Organizations
Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, Vol. 4, pp. 65-78, 2004
Although the term zero tolerance has been used to describe sexual harassment policies for several years, a zero tolerance industry has mushroomed since the Supreme Court fashioned an affirmative defense in twin 1998 sexual harassment decisions. The authors take a critical look at zero tolerance policies noting that they have been widely embraced without clear definitions or particulars, without considering the potential pitfalls of the policies, and without empirical support for their efficacy in preventing or addressing workplace sexual harassment. With regard to how zero tolerance is defined, the authors discern absolutist and symbolic uses of the term by proponents. As for the dangers inherent in zero tolerance policy use, they caution that the approach runs the risk of increasing backlash against women, obfuscating proactive organizational climates, and emphasizing a form over substance approach to eradicating harassment. The authors then take a preliminary look at how zero tolerance policies and concepts have emerged in the caselaw. Finally, based on research findings, the authors recommend that rather than adopting zero tolerance in an unthinking fashion, employers look at the root causes of sexual harassment and provide leadership in role modeling egalitarian, respectful work environments.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: September 15, 2004
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