Sexual harassment in the workplace may refer to when a job applicant or current employee experiences some form of harassment that is related to sex or a person’s gender. This can include:
- Requests for sexual favors;
- Physical or verbal remarks that are sexual in nature;
- Unwelcome sexual advances;
- Offensive remarks based on a person’s gender; and/or
- Displays of sexually offensive materials (e.g., emails, photos, etc.).
Sexual harassment in the workplace can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or their harasser’s gender. In other words, sexual harassment can occur between two males, a male and a female, two females, and so forth.
Additionally, the offender can be anyone associated with the victim’s workplace, such as:
- A boss, supervisor, or manager;
- A fellow co-worker; or
- Even an individual that is not employed by the victim’s company (e.g., a customer or client).
Hence, why the federal government and the majority of state governments have enacted statutes that make it illegal to sexually harass others. These statutes also serve to protect employees from sexual harassment in their work environment as well as provide different courses of legal action for employees who have suffered sexual harassment at work.
Therefore, if you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you should contact a local employment law attorney as soon as possible. No one should ever have to tolerate sexual harassment at work. Moreover, sexual harassment is against the law. So, do not be afraid to report it. Furthermore, it is illegal for employers to retaliate against a worker for doing so. Thus, there are also legal remedies available should you be terminated for reporting sexual harassment.
What is Sexual Harassment?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment can be defined as a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and various other physical or verbal acts that are sexual in nature.
Sexual harassment may also include offensive comments or remarks that are directed towards a person’s gender. However, the latter acts are more commonly associated with gender discrimination.
Aside from the examples briefly mentioned in the above section, some other acts that may constitute sexual harassment can include:
- Asking an employee sexually intrusive questions (e.g., questions about their sex life or sexual preferences);
- Making crude jokes, sexually offensive gestures, or sexual remarks;
- Showing, sending, or requesting sexual messages, emails, images, and so on;
- Making sexual comments about how an employee looks or their attire;
- Deliberately exposing oneself to another employee; and/or
- Displaying sexual content in the workplace (e.g., nude photos on an employee’s desk, sexual images on a work computer screensaver, etc.).
As mentioned, it is important to keep in mind that an act of sexual harassment can be inflicted on and carried out by a person of any gender. In other words, sexual harassment can occur beyond the scope of sexual harassment stereotypes of that between a man and a woman; it can include same sex parties as well.
Lastly, one other factor to remember about sexual harassment cases is that the perpetrator does not necessarily need to be an employee. They can be someone like an outside vendor, customer, client, or other person that is linked to an employee’s workplace.
What are the Types of Sexual Harassment?
In addition, a federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), provides that there are two types of sexual harassment. These include:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment: Quid pro quo sexual harassment may occur when an acting supervisor directs an employee to do them a sexual favor in return for some sort of employee benefit like a raise or promotion. The main concern under this type of claim is whether the offender holds a position that gives them the authority or ability to offer such perks. If not, then it may be a different form of sexual harassment.
- An example of this kind of sexual harassment may involve a CEO asking their secretary for a sexual favor in exchange for a higher salary.
- Hostile work environment sexual harassment: On the other hand, hostile work environment sexual harassment can involve employees who hold any job position within the company; not only superiors. The primary hallmarks of this type of claim include sexually offensive conduct that occurs on a continual basis and impacts an employee’s work performance.
- An example of this kind of sexual harassment may occur when a co-worker repeatedly touches another co-worker inappropriately without their consent.
Although quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment are the two primary forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, there may be others listed under state sexual harassment statutes depending on the jurisdiction. Thus, it is important to review state laws as well before filing a claim.
What Should You Do If You Believe You Have Been the Victim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
There are a number of steps that a worker should take if they believe they have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Before filing a claim for sexual harassment, a worker should speak with the alleged offender first. In some instances, the offender might not realize that they are causing the worker to feel uncomfortable or that they are offended by their actions.
If a worker does not feel comfortable speaking to their offender or have already tried telling the offender to stop, then they should report the conduct to a superior or someone who works within their company’s human resources department like a hiring manager. It is important that the worker submits any complaints in writing and saves all information related to their meeting or resolution process. This may be useful in the event that the issue escalates to a lawsuit.
If a supervisor or human resources department representative fails to address and/or resolve the issue, then the next step that a worker must take is to file a complaint with their local EEOC office. The EEOC will review their complaint and conduct an investigation accordingly. If the EEOC finds that sexual harassment likely occurred, then they may file a claim on the worker’s behalf or issue some other form of legal remedy.
On the other hand, if the EEOC does not address and/or resolve the worker’s issue, then they must resort to hiring a private attorney and filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in civil court. From that point forward, the offender may decide to settle the action or take the case to trial. An attorney can advise a worker on which may offer a better solution based on the facts of their case.
Should I Consult an Attorney If I Believe I’ve Been Sexually Harassed?
If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local sexual harassment lawyers for further advice. An experienced employment law attorney can offer counsel on your options for legal recourse and can make sure that you have exhausted all administrative remedies first in compliance with the law.
Your attorney can also help you file a sexual harassment claim in court and can draft any necessary legal documents. If your case should go to trial, your attorney will be able to provide legal representation as well.