Experience level: 
Intended Audience: 
Professor Arthur Gross-Schaefer, JD, CPA, MAHL, Professor Sona Gala, JD, Dr. Patricia Martinez, PhD, and Research Assistant, Nisha Bajania.

The Use of Religious and Restorative Justice Models to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is and continues to be an ever-growing problem. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in 2018 individuals filed over 7500 sexual harassment claims, representing a fourteen percent increase over the previous year. Considering that only one in ten individuals report sexual harassment, the numbers are likely much greater (Cortina and Berdahl 2008). Numerous organizational costs, financial and human, are associated with claims of workplace sexual harassment including litigation costs, employees’ diminished mental and physical health, fewer opportunities for training and advancement, and the potential derailment of promising careers for both the survivor and perpetrator of the sexual harassment (Women’s Policy Research 2018). Thus, a just, humane, restorative and legal organizational response is critical for both employees and organizations. Once an employee files a sexual harassment complaint, the organization must investigate the claim and often, from the victim’s perspective, the process is adversarial. While it may potentially “resolve” the issue or lead to litigation/settlement with the survivor, this process often leaves the survivor without a full sense of recovery and healing, both physically and mentally. Survivors are not necessarily provided with the ability to voice how they feel or to seek closure by directly addressing the perpetrator of the harassment. In addition, the perpetrator may not have the opportunity to listen to the survivor, nor to voice his or her remorse for their actions. Organizational research suggests that voice is a key concept for these types of crises. Morrison (2011) defines voice behaviors as extra-role, meaning discretionary, behaviors that communicate concerns, opinions, suggestions, or ideas about work-related issues, that are intended to improve the organization. Furthermore, Schwartz and Wald (2003) suggest a link between voice and the prevention of organizational crises. From a signaling theory perspective (Spence, 1974; Thurow, 1975), practices such as these are clear manifestations and signals of their organization’s support for them (Suazo, Martinez & Sandoval, 2009). As a result, our objective is to review several religious traditions as well as restorative justice concepts dealing with rehabilitation and healing, and to propose how these may provide employees with voice during a sexual harassment investigation. The models presented may assist victims/survivors to fully express their pain, anger, and hardships, while helping a perpetrator to express remorse. Religious and secular traditions can indeed provide tools and concepts for both parties to engage in an open and directed dialogue. We propose frameworks that provide consenting survivors and offenders of workplace sexual harassment a path for healing and perhaps, rehabilitation, and to guide interactions between the parties. This article is directed at those who are (1) affected by workplace sexual misconduct and harassment, survivors and even perpetrators, (2) those professionals responding to these cases, including attorneys, human resource professionals, counselors, therapists, and (3) those educating these future professionals. We provide this tool for restorative justice, beyond or in addition to those available in our legal system.