The Filner Case: Workplace Policy, Employee Education is Key to Sexual Harassment Prevention

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

We often hear about political scandals, but it isn’t often that we hear about them in our own backyard. As San Diego Mayor Bob Filner began making headlines for alleged sexual harassment in the workplace earlier this month, locals everywhere perked their ears, bracing for the news. According to reports, Filner was accused of having inappropriate interactions with as many as 13 women, leading to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, the former communications director for the ex-congressman.

While each case contains varied details for the most part, all of the women say that Filner made sexual advances, touched them too closely or inappropriately, made flirtatious comments and asked personal questions about their relationship status.

Though Filner isn’t looking to resign anytime soon, he did apologize to the city of San Diego for his inappropriate behavior.

“As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them,” he said.

With enough time, Filner’s story will be one of the many political scandals to go down in history. And even though headlines will soon dwindle, the psychological effects experienced by each woman in this case will undoubtedly be long withstanding.


Sexual harassment occurs when unwanted sexual advances take place within the context of a professional relationship. To be illegal, the victim of sexual harassment must have asked that the behavior stop with an inability to leave the situation without tangible hardship.

When an individual is subjected to sexual harassment, the psychological effects can range from mild feelings of anxiety and frustration to heightened stress, terror, victim blaming and even suicidal thoughts. In the workplace, victims of sexual harassment may have poor attendance, a difficult time focusing and trouble performing expected job duties.

Sexual harassment can lead to deep psychological effects including:


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

High Blood Pressure

Sleep Disorders

Neck Pain


The stakes are even higher for victims who are sexually harassed by individuals of power. Fear of retaliation or being accused of lying are just some of the psychological stresses endured by victims who are harassed by powerful figures.

It goes without saying that sexual harassment in the workplace is detrimental on-the-job and long thereafter. Sexual harassment can linger for years even after the abuse has ended, affecting both personal and professional relationships.

When it comes to preventing sexual harassment, we can work together by implementing employer policy and education to create harmony for everyone in the workplace.



Employees can always strive for positive interactions among coworkers.

If in doubt, don’t say it.

Our intuition can often give us an indication of whether our comments are appropriate or not. If you think your comments can be construed as flirtatious, coy or playful, it could also potentially border on sexual harassment. Don’t risk your reputation at work – or worse, don’t get fired for inappropriate behavior. Stick to professional conversations when you’re at the office.

Keep private matters private.

Just because your comments aren’t directed towards a specific person doesn’t mean it can’t be construed as sexual harassment. For example, if you tend to have conversations about private matters like yours or another’s sex life, it can dangerously border on sexual harassment.

Keep your ego in check.

Don’t assume that women want to be showered with your compliments. Most likely, they don’t, so keep your ego in check at work and keep to professional lingo – not lavish praises.


Leaders can help put an end to churlish behavior and sexual harassment at work.

Adopt a Clear Sexual Harassment Policy.

Employees need to understand your corporate policy on sexual harassment in clear writing. Have employees sign documentation ensuring they comprehend expectations when it comes to sexual harassment.

Write Up Offenses Immediately.

Don’t hesitate to give a written warning to an employee who is out of line. Written warnings ensure that the seriousness of the matter is appropriately conveyed. It also creates a paper trail if the issue escalates into legal sexual harassment.

Initiate Ongoing Sexual Harassment Training.

Some people simply don’t know what’s appropriate at work and what’s not. Ongoing training is essential to ensure all employees understand workplace expectations.

Offer Employee Counseling or Mediation.

Relationship counseling helps the individuals to recognize and to better manage or reconcile the underlying patterns of conflict. For more information on implementing a course of remedy through relationship counseling at your workplace, email me at

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