Coming to Terms with Zero Tolerance Sexual Harassment Policies

Posted: 15 Sep 2004  

Margaret S. Stockdale

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale - Department of Psychology

Susan Bisom-Rapp

Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Maureen O'Connor

John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) - Department of Psychology

Barbara A. Gutek

University of Arizona - Department of Management and Organizations

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Stockdale, Margaret S. and Bisom-Rapp, Susan and O'Connor, Maureen and Gutek, Barbara A., Coming to Terms with Zero Tolerance Sexual Harassment Policies. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, Vol. 4, pp. 65-78, 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=589282

Margaret S. Stockdale

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale - Department of Psychology ( email )

Carbondale, IL 62901
United States

Susan Bisom-Rapp (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

1155 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4208 (Phone)
619-961-1208 (Fax)

Maureen O'Connor

John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) - Department of Psychology ( email )

445 West 59th Street
New York, NY 10019-1199
United States

Barbara A. Gutek

University of Arizona - Department of Management and Organizations ( email )

405 McClelland Hall
P.O. Box 210108
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States

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