While harassment of any kind is illegal, the topic of sexual harassment warrants special consideration. Every year, thousands of people face unwelcome comments and requests for sexual favors from landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, and security guards.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recognize two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment sexual harassment.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is an unwelcome request or demand to engage in conduct where the submission is either explicitly or implicitly made a condition related to the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental. An unwelcome request or demand may constitute quid pro quo harassment even if the person agrees to the unwelcome request or demand. A property manager telling a prospective resident that she’ll waive the pet fee if he goes on a date with her is an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile environment sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to interfere with the use or enjoyment of the apartment home or other facilities. Determining a hostile environment depends on many factors, including nature, severity, frequency, duration, context, and location of the conduct. An example of hostile environment sexual harassment would be a leasing consultant making frequent comments about a resident’s body while she is at the swimming pool to the point where his behavior makes her stop visiting the swimming pool.
Considering the attention sexual harassment has gotten lately, you may be feeling nervous or confused about what is and isn’t appropriate.
Here are some tips:
- Take a moment to think about how others may perceive actions you consider friendly. In general, do not initiate hugs or kisses with customers and coworkers. Even if you are just an affectionate person and don’t mean anything by it, it could make people uncomfortable, and they may be too polite to tell you so. You can still be friendly—try a big smile and a positive greeting instead.
- In general, avoid commenting on how customers and coworkers look, like telling a customer she looks great in her jeans or telling a co-worker he’s “looking hot.” What may seem like a harmless compliment to you could be unwanted attention for that person.
- If you see harassing behavior happening, don’t play along and don’t ignore it. The person doing the harassing may think your silence or nervous laughter means that you are OK with the behavior. If you don’t feel safe speaking up, at least report the behavior to your supervisor or the HR department.
- If you are a supervisor, immediately investigate and respond to any complaints of harassment.
The increased spotlight on sexual harassment is not going away. HUD is serious about investigating complaints of sexual harassment, and owners and operators of rental housing communities are paying the price. Make sure your employees are aware of the laws, but more importantly make sure they are trained in what is appropriate, respectful behavior that should be shown at all times.
Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill. Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leaders and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.
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