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Sexual harassment in Iowa and witnesses reporting it

When sexual harassment takes place in the workplace in Iowa, it is common that the victim is not the only person aware of it. Witnesses might see that there is harassment taking place and there is frequently confusion as to the protocol of reporting it when another person is a victim of harassment. Understanding how the law views this issue is important when a person is subjected to sexual harassment at work and would like to seek help and file a legal claim about it.

There are certain public universities and government agencies that require witnesses to sexual harassment to report it. This is designed to shield the victim. In a recent incident, the Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, dismissed the Iowa Finance Authority's director when he was alleged to have sexually harassed an employee. The victim asserted that he commented on her physique, questioned her regarding her sex life, asked her to join him in his hotel room and made jokes and gestures of a sexual nature. When she complained, she expressed how fearful she was, but felt she had no alternative.

The chief administrative officer of the Finance Authority had given the director a reprimand, but an implied threat was made about his job in response. The general counsel of the agency informed him to cease his behavior. It is not known whether those who tried to put a stop to it from within the agency ever told those outside the agency what was happening. This can be a complicated matter with sexual harassment and whether witnesses are obligated to report what they have seen and heard.

The state's employee handbook states that state employees who are mistreated with sexual harassment or other work-related violations should inform an immediate supervisor, except in instances in which that supervisor is committing the harassment. The complainant in the above case went to the governor due to fear of retaliation. One study found that there was a greater likelihood of workers reporting sexual harassment if the job had a policy of zero-tolerance.

Without a legal mandate for witnesses of sexual harassment, it can be intimidating for any worker to report being sexually harassed. Fear of losing one's job, facing retaliation and other factors are part of the decision to remain silent. However, there are options for those who are victims of sexual harassment or are witnesses to it. A legal professional who is experienced in helping clients file a sexual harassment claim may be able to provide guidance about stopping the behavior and pursuing compensation.

Source: thegazette.com, "Should bystanders be required to report sexual harassment?," Erin Jordan, May 6, 2018

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