In the first three articles in our series on sexual harassment in the workplace, we have looked at the medical industry, hospitality industry, and the retail industry. This time, we will take a look at another working-class industry that does not receive very much attention with regards to sexual harassment; the manufacturing industry. Like the others we have talked about, women in this industry frequently have to endure a hostile work environment in which they often feel like they have very little recourse when they are being harassed.
Manufacturing is a unique industry in a lot of ways. The industry has traditionally been dominated by males, and even today, only about 25%-30% of manufacturing workers are female. Manufacturing is also different from many other industries in that there is virtually no customer interaction in this industry, and nearly all of the work is performed “behind the scenes” and away from the view of the general public. This makes it in an environment where it is much easier for workers to get away with bad behavior.
Sexual Harassment Complaints in the Manufacturing Industry
According to a 10-year study conducted by the Center for American Progress, manufacturing had the third highest number of EEOC complaints for sexual harassment. The industry received just under 12% of the 85,000+ complaints to the agency over their decade-long study. The only two industries that had more complaints were the food and accommodation (hospitality) industry and retail. This is surprising considering the low percentage of female workers in manufacturing compared to these other two industries, and it highlights the significance of the problem of sexual harassment in manufacturing.
There are a lot of reasons sexual harassment is so pervasive in the manufacturing industry:
- Isolated Workspaces: As mentioned earlier, most manufacturing happens away from public view. Workers are typically assigned to various places on an assembly line, and they often do their tasks with very little supervision. Managers tend to spend most of their time in the back office and only come out on the floor when there is a problem to attend to.
- Culture of Silence: Manufacturing is a difficult and stressful job, and over the decades, reporting bad behavior has often been viewed as “snitching.” Workers frequently justify their actions by saying things like “this is the way things have always been” or that they were just “blowing off steam”. In this type of environment, women are often afraid to complain because they fear they will be labeled as “moody” or “difficult to work with”, which could put their livelihood in jeopardy.
- Lack of Sensitivity: In a traditionally male-dominated industry, sensitivity has never been a top priority. As such, salty language, inappropriate jokes, making fun of other employees, and similar conduct has always been seen as “no big deal” and just “part of the job.”
- Limited Accountability: The EEOC estimates that only about 6% to 13% of incidents of sexual harassment are ever formally reported. It is easy to see why this is the case in the manufacturing industry. Many harassed workers do not feel like anything will be done about their complaints. Higher level executives and their human resources personnel are usually located off-site, so there is a general feeling that workers' complaints may not be taken seriously, and nothing will be done to hold those who are perpetrating this type of behavior accountable.
Changing a culture that has operated the same way for such a long time is never easy. That said, “things have always been this way” is not an acceptable defense. Sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment and discrimination are illegal under federal law, and no employee should have to endure a hostile work environment. Manufacturing companies need to take proactive steps; such as enacting stricter anti-harassment policies, ensuring that all workers and management are fully educated on these policies, implementing more transparent reporting policies, and making cultural changes to address this problem.
Have you Experienced Harassment in the Workplace? Know your Legal Rights
If you have been sexually harassed as a manufacturing employee or a worker in any other industry, you do not have to stay silent. Your right to a harassment-free workplace is protected by federal law, and there are legal remedies available, which may include the right to recover compensation. To learn more about the legal options you may have for your specific situation, it is best to speak with an experienced civil rights lawyer.
For nearly 15 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has fought for the rights of working people in Alabama. Kira has helped numerous employees who have been subjected to harassment and discrimination obtain appropriate legal relief. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at (404) 383-5720. You may also message us through our web contact form.