Sexual Harassment Ethical Dilemma at the Workplace

Sexual Harassment Ethical Dilemma at the Workplace

Sexual Harassment Ethical Dilemma at the Workplace

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Sexual Harassment Ethical Dilemma at the Workplace

Description of the Dilemma

At my previous workplace, I once witnessed an ethical dilemma at play. I was an intern at the organization at the time. The organization is renowned and it deals with children’s protection. It was a non-profit membership organization that was fully donor-funded that implemented various programs for children’s protection. I was barely three months into the organization when I came to learn that one of the department heads was sexually harassing one of the interns. The department head named Peter (not his real name) had served in the position of Senior Program Officer for more than seven years now. He had started as a program assistant and managed to climb the career ladder in the next few years. He managed a team of three program officers, each implementing projects under different grants, one program assistant, and three interns. I was among the three interns. It came to be known that he had made sexual advances on one of the interns named Olivia, which violated workplace rules. Olivia was the quiet type who rarely spoke unless addressed. She had a laidback personality and kept to herself most of the time. If not out on fieldwork, you would find Olivia sited quietly as she worked on her desk. Nobody would have suspected that Peter was preying on Olivia and making her feel uncomfortable. When Peter started making advances on her, Olivia thought that he was probably joking, so she did not make the situation serious. One evening, Olivia was working late as she waited for traffic to die down so that she can go home. Peter was also still in his office working. He called her into his office under the pretense of work and tried to force himself on her. Peter’s actions petrified Olivia. She managed to escape from his firm grip and ran outside to where the security guard stationed at the gate was. She explained to the guard, who was a lady, what had happened. The following day, Olivia then filed a harassment complaint to the human resource manager who purposed to investigate the matter and take it up with his seniors, including the executive director and board of directors. This was the first incidence of sexual harassment to ever happen at the organization and it took people by surprise.

Impact of the Incident Others and Myself

The sexual harassment incident affected everybody in the organization. The team members who reported to Peter were more affected than other people since they were the ones that worked with him one-on-one. His behavior came as a shock to everyone because he had never displayed his negative side. Olivia was the most affected by the occurrence. She was my friend and colleague. We attended the same college and had applied for internships in the same organization since we studied the same course and had similar interests. On that fateful day when Peter attacked her, Olivia was scared. She was traumatized by the incident, and she was afraid that people would not believe her since there was no witness. People had already gone home by the time Peter attacked her. There were no cameras to back her story, and it was upon her to prove that her boss had tried forcing himself on her. The human resource manager suspended Peter the following way to pave the way for impartial investigations. The Human resource manager also apologized to Olivia for what she had been through and asked her to take a few days off. For the next two days, the office was not the same. People seemed unsettled, and they could barely function properly. Olivia took two days off, and with the help of her therapists, she managed to get back on her feet and go back to work after five days.

Impact on Relationships within the Organization

The incident had a serious effect on the organization as a whole. By virtue of being a rights organization, one would not expect such behavior from a senior manager (Klein, & Shtudiner, 2021). Before hiring employees, organizations are expected to probe the individual well to know their character. However, nothing could have prepared people for what Peter did; he did not have a criminal record, and the background check conducted before hiring him was clean. The incident affected the relationship between him and his team members and his employers. His team members were disappointed in his actions. They alienated themselves from him. After the investigations were conducted, it was affirmed that Peter had indeed attacked Olivia. He was called for a disciplinary meeting where he admitted to the wrongdoing. The Board of Directors arrived at the decision to terminate him indefinitely. The move made Olivia feel happy and secure. Now that her attacker had gone, Olivia could get back to her work and become productive. The team members felt disappointed in Peter, and they stood with Olivia, who was the victim in this case. Although the management did all they could to contain the situation and resolve it internally. Within no time, a word about Peter’s termination was out. The civil society sector is so small, and it is hard to hide such things. This is because organizations tend to be partners; they work together as like-minded organizations. They eventually came to learn the real reason behind Peter’s termination, which negatively affected their reputation. The organization was not able to get interns and volunteers for the next six months because students had learned about the incident and stooped sending applications.

What Could Be Done Differently

In my viewpoint, nothing could have been done differently in this situation. Considering the fact that Peter almost raped Olivia, his termination was justified. Sexual harassments are a serious violation of the workplace policy because the organization prohibits sexual relations of all forms. I commend the administration for the swift action that it took to investigate the allegations before making a decision. The human resource manager did well first to send Peter home to pave the way for investigations. If he had continued coming to work, he would have influenced the investigations or even retaliated against Olivia for reporting him. Reporting Peter was a necessary action and the right thing to do.

Insight into Other Ethical Dilemmas

Olivia’s sexual harassment incident by her boss indicates the extent to which how rampant ethical violations at the workplace have become. While incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace are rampant, most of them go unreported (Kancharla & Dadhich, 2020). Worth noting, sexual harassment is one of the numerous examples of ethical issues that people grapple with at the workplace. Other common ethical dilemmas range from unethical leadership, toxic work environments and culture, unrealistic goals to misuse of company resources and technology. While some ethical dilemmas are dramatic, others are not, but nonetheless, these violations are wrong. When faced with an unethical situation, one should always go with the personal values that they value the most as a guide.


Kancharla, R., & Dadhich, A. (2020). Perceived ethics training and workplace behavior: the mediating role of perceived ethical culture. European Journal of Training and Development., G., & Shtudiner, Z. (2021). Judging severity of unethical workplace behavior: Attractiveness and gender as status characteristics. BRQ Business Research Quarterly, 24(1), 19-33.