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Is Sexual Harassment Common in Non-Profit Organizations?

July 6th, 2022
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Help Workers in All Industries Fight Sexual Harassment.

Non-profits are not immune from the unpleasant and unlawful behaviors that plague other types of organizations. That includes sexual harassment. In fact, one research study found more than three-quarters of fundraisers have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers. The alleged perpetrators of these encounters included coworkers, stakeholders, and donors.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws regarding harassment and discrimination in organizations with 15 or more employees. These laws prohibit discrimination against an applicant or employee based on:

  • Age.
  • Race.
  • Disability.
  • Color.
  • Genetic information.
  • Religion.
  • National origin.
  • Sex.

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term for a host of unwanted and unlawful behaviors. Harassment of a sexual nature includes unwelcome physical advances, requests for sexual favors, and persistent or severe suggestions or comments regarding one’s sex.

A one-off joke probably does not rise to the level of illegal harassment. When the behavior is so frequent or severe, it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment action, like a demotion or termination.

There are several reasons why sexual harassment persists among social and animal welfare organizations, athletic clubs, charitable services, educational groups, and other types of non-profits. Here are some of the most common.

Confusion Over Who Is Considered an Employee  

Because unpaid volunteers primarily run them, smaller non-profits may not realize they meet the quota for anti-discrimination laws. However, the federal government clearly defines “employees” to include:

  • Undocumented workers.
  • Part-time, full-time, temporary, and seasonal workers.
  • Individuals assigned to a non-profit through a work program.
  • Volunteers whose work is required for regular employment.
  • Volunteers whose work typically leads to full-time employment.
  • Volunteers who receive benefits from their service, even if a third party provides these benefits.

By understanding the law, non-profits may discover they meet or exceed the minimum number of workers covered by federal employment laws. In that case, undocumented workers, seasonal workers, and volunteers have the right to file a claim if they experience sexual harassment.

Vague or Non-Existent Anti-Harassment Policies

Confusion over their status under the law leaves many non-profits lacking in effective anti-discrimination policies and procedures. Without these policies, employees are unclear about what constitutes sexual harassment and their recourse if they encounter unwelcome advances and other sex-based behaviors.

A clear sexual harassment policy:

  • Includes the definition of sexual harassment according to applicable state laws.
  • Clearly defines the consequences for violating these laws.
  • Explains the process by which workers and volunteers should report sexual harassment.
  • Expresses that sexual harassment will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

The Imbalance of Power in Fundraising

Non-profits cannot survive without financial support from donors and wealthy benefactors. Fundraisers have to keep stakeholders happy if they want to continue operations. That creates a power imbalance that makes it especially challenging for non-profit employees and volunteers to speak out against sexual harassment.

Scholars from Ohio State University have studied sexual harassment in the non-profit sector for several years. Three out of every four fundraisers have encountered sexual harassment. One in ten has been harassed by donors or someone outside their organization.

The scholars determined that lesbian, gay, and bisexual fundraisers were more likely to be sexually harassed than their straight colleagues. Non-profit employees and volunteers who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, as well as people of color and people of color who identify as LGB are more likely to experience a form of harassment called sexual coercion. Sexual coercion can be pressure to perform sexual dates or favors as well as stalking or even rape.

What Should You Do if You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work?

Non-profits are no different than for-profit companies in preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Non-profit leaders must investigate every allegation of harassment and take a zero-tolerance approach where discriminatory behaviors are concerned.

Tell Someone and Wait for the Investigation

If you experience sexual harassment while working or donating your time to a non-profit, you can first tell the person to stop if you feel comfortable. If the harassment continues, you should report it as soon as possible. Follow your organization’s procedures for notifying higher-ups of harassment. They should investigate and stop the offensive behavior.

When a non-profit brushes off sexual harassment claims, it sends a message that they do not care about these violations or is more concerned with protecting a donor or someone else in power.

Contact the EEOC if Sexual Harassment Continues

If you do not get a resolution or your organization does not take your concerns seriously, you can go outside your non-profit and file a complaint with the EEOC. Your local EEOC field office is an excellent resource for guidance on the claim process. You can schedule an intake interview by phone and check the status of an existing claim online.

Consult a Sexual Harassment Lawyer for Guidance

Many incidents of workplace sexual harassment are quickly and effectively resolved within the non-profit. However, other behaviors become so offensive and even hostile that it impacts a person’s ability to do their job and feel safe at work. In that case, legal guidance can be invaluable for helping individuals experiencing harassment move forward and advocate for themselves.

If you want legal guidance, choose an attorney who understands state and federal anti-discrimination laws and focuses their practice on sexual harassment and other complex employment matters. Because there are time limits for filing a claim, it is essential to contact your attorney promptly.

Can My Non-profit Leaders Retaliate if I Report Sexual Harassment?

Retaliation for speaking out about sexual harassment is prohibited. Retaliatory actions are considered illegal if the action that proceeded with the retaliation is protected by law. That includes retaliation for reporting discrimination, sexual harassment, and other unlawful workplace activities. Retaliation can be anything from harassing someone for speaking up, passing them over for a promotion they deserve, reducing their pay, or forcing them to quit through intimidation.

At the same time, it is essential to determine if someone is fabricating allegations of sexual harassment at a non-profit. That is why organization leaders need to enlist a neutral, independent investigator to speak with the parties involved, review the evidence, and make a decision based on the facts.

If you are dissatisfied with your non-profit’s response to your sexual harassment claim or want to know if litigation against an employer is warranted, your attorney can answer those questions and help you resolve your case.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Help Workers in All Industries Fight Sexual Harassment

If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, do not hesitate to speak to a lawyer. Our Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. are committed to achieving good results for every client. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we work with clients across South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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