Observers' reactions to social-sexual behavior at work: An ethical decision-making perspective

Date of Completion

January 1996


Business Administration, Management|Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations




This dissertation contributes to the understanding of sexual harassment by developing an ethical decision making perspective of the phenomenon that offers unique insight into why some individuals are more likely than others to intervene in an incident of social-sexual behavior that they witness in the workplace. I examine how social-sexual behaviors that vary in moral intensity influence both the perceptions and intentions of individuals who observe (but are not directly involved in) such behavior as well as identify individual and situational variables that influence observers' reactions.^ Participants responded to vignettes describing an incident of social-sexual behavior initiated by a man named John and directed at a woman named Susan. Three components of moral intensity (social consensus, proximity to the target, and magnitude of consequences) were manipulated in the vignettes resulting in a 3 x 2 x 2 factorial design. Each participant responded to one vignette and completed additional instruments. All participants were employed full-time in the United States.^ Multiple regression and moderated regression analyses were used to determine the effects of moral intensity, personal characteristics of observers, and situational characteristics on observers' recognition of an ethical issue and their intentions to intervene in the incident.^ This study makes several important contributions to existing research. It provides the first theoretical examination of the phenomenon of sexual harassment from an ethical decision making perspective. My results provide support for an ethical decision making model of observers' intentions to intervene in that (1) the components of moral intensity influenced the extent to which potentially harassing behavior was recognized as an ethical issue, and (2) recognizing the incident as an ethical issue led observers to state intentions to intervene. Furthermore, my results provide the first information regarding the characteristics of observers who are willing to intervene in an incident of sexual harassment and the conditions under which they are willing to intervene. ^