Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and Construction: My Latest for ENR

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez
It took dozens of sources, hundreds of pages of testimony, 70 real-life court cases, and a whole newsroom, but the payoff was worth it. This week, the Engineering News-Record published a special investigation into abusive workplace behaviors and their swiftly changing legal ramifications–with my byline on it. It’s my first cover feature, and I’ll add that it’s also my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

There’s an interesting mix in here of data-driven journalism, investigative reporting, and crowd-sourced information. With the help of a legal researcher, I broke those 70 civil suits into quantifiable data to measure trends and statistics relating to sexual harassment in the construction industry. What we found, in that data and in related EEOC data was that a relatively high percentage of those cases involved men suing men under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That eventually led us to bullying, the most recent human resources hot topic in the trades. Title VII does a terrible job of protecting women who have been subjected to abusive work environments, and it does a worse job for men, particularly in the building trades. Judges frequently argue in their decisions that construction is a rough industry known for its uncivil job-site behavior. But in construction, it’s all the more vital for workers to be free of outside pressures and distractions to avoid safety hazards. Are anti-bullying laws the answer?

We found that experts don’t agree on this. Just as many said the laws are necessary as said they are redundant. And since the laws have yet to be enacted in any individual state, we don’t know for sure whether they will bring equal justice or a flood of frivolous lawsuits. The best advice we could come up with: for managers, establish anti-bullying policies to protect yourselves; for workers, don’t be afraid to take up your grievances with management.

Please read my article, as well as the accompanying sidebar and viewpoint, and the article that kicked all of this off in the first place. The paywall closes soon, unfortunately. Let me know what you think in this post’s comments section!