According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employment sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that occurs in the workplace. Specifically, employment sexual harassment may involve acts of discrimination based on the sex or gender of the individual that the act is directed towards. Some examples of such acts that the EEOC provides in its definition for employment sexual harassment include the following:
- Requests for sexual favors;
- Unwelcome sexual advances;
- Offensive comments about a specific gender;
- Verbal remarks or physical acts that are sexual in nature; and/or
- Displays of materials that are deemed to be sexually offensive (e.g., photos, texts, etc.).
Any act that constitutes employment sexual harassment will be considered to be unlawful. As such, a person who commits an act of employment sexual harassment can face both civil and criminal charges. In most instances, however, an employment sexual harassment case will be handled as a civil matter. Whether an incident rises to the level of a criminal offense will depend on the nature of the sexual act (e.g., sexually assaulting a person at work is a crime).
It is also important to note that acts of employment sexual harassment can be carried out against any individual in the workplace. This means that both the victim and their offender can be of either the same or of different genders. For example, a female boss can be sued for employment sexual harassment regardless of whether they allegedly sexually harassed a male or a female employee.
In addition, an offender can be any individual who is associated with the victim’s place of work, such as:
- A boss, a manager, or a supervisor;
- A co-worker or a colleague;
- A customer or a client of the victim’s employer; and/or
- An outside vendor that works with or for the victim’s employer.
Finally, it is illegal to engage in conduct that qualifies as employment sexual harassment under both federal and the majority of state laws. Therefore, if you have been subjected to acts of employment sexual harassment, then you should consult with a workplace sexual harassment lawyer in your area as soon as possible.
What are Some Examples of Employment Sexual Harassment?
As previously mentioned, employment sexual harassment is defined as unlawful sexual conduct that occurs in the workplace. Some examples of employment sexual harassment may include the following:
- Asking an employee sexually offensive or inappropriate questions, such as about their sexual preferences or about their personal sex life;
- Making sexual remarks or sexually offensive gestures towards another employee;
- Telling jokes or stories that are crude or sexual in nature either during the workday or while at a work-sponsored event (e.g., office happy hours);
- Exposing oneself to others in the work environment;
- Requesting, showing, or sending co-workers sexual messages, images, emails, texts, and the like;
- Displaying sexual content in the workplace where it could be seen or found by a worker’s colleagues (e.g., screensavers with pornographic images, photo frames that contain nude images, inappropriate paintings or posters on office walls, etc.); and/or
- Behaving in a manner that is physically or sexually offensive (e.g., rubbing, touching, or groping another worker without their consent or in a way that would make other co-workers feel uncomfortable).
The above list only contains some common examples and is not exhaustive of acts that may constitute employment sexual harassment by any means. Individual state laws may provide additional examples of specific acts that can qualify as this form of harassment as well.
What are the Legal Remedies for Employment Sexual Harassment?
A worker who is able to prove that they have been subjected to employment sexual harassment may be able to recover a number of different legal remedies, such as:
- A monetary damages award;
- Punitive damages;
- Back pay;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Reinstatement of employee benefits and their job;
- Attorneys’ fees and administrative court costs; and/or
- A court-mandated order that requires an employer to undergo sexual harassment training or change their company policies.
What Services Does an Employment Sexual Harassment Provide?
Some types of legal services that employment sexual harassment lawyers may provide can include the following:
- Counseling employees about their legal rights and options under the law;
- Helping employees determine where to file a formal complaint with their local EEOC or another government agency that handles such claims;
- Drafting legal documents that are necessary to file a lawsuit in civil court;
- Assisting in gathering evidence that supports a worker’s sexual harassment claim;
- Providing legal representation before a judge in civil court;
- Negotiating a settlement on behalf of a worker with their employer’s counsel;
- Aiding a worker in recovering damages for any injuries or harm they suffered as a result of a sexual harassment incident; and/or
- Representing an employer or business against a worker’s claims of employment sexual harassment.
Are There any Steps I Should Take if I’ve Been Sexually Harassed in an Employment Setting?
The first step that a worker should take if they have been sexually harassed in an employment setting is to review the terms of their employment contract or the provisions of their employee handbook that address this topic. Company policies and other employment materials may also be of use in such a situation. In general, company resources tend to outline the steps that an employee should take when this type of incident occurs.
If after reading company materials the worker is still unsure of what to do or if the company materials are silent on such matters, then it may be in a worker’s best interest to consult a local sexual harassment attorney for further legal advice.
While searching for and scheduling an appointment with a “sexual harassment lawyer near me”, an employee should begin to gather evidence that supports their sexual harassment claim, such as witnesses, recordings, or correspondence that contains the sexually offensive remarks and/or conduct. A workplace sexual harassment lawyer may also recommend that an employee speak directly to their offender or HR department before filing a formal complaint.
If none of these actions are helpful, then the employee must report the incident to a local EEOC or similar government office. An employee will be required to report the incident before they can file a lawsuit against their employer. Thus, employees should bear in mind that they cannot skip over this step.
Once all administrative remedies have been exhausted, then the worker can file a lawsuit in court. However, their local EEOC or other government agency will need to finish the investigation into their incident before that ever happens. If a government agency finds that there are sufficient grounds to penalize the worker’s employer, the agency will do so accordingly.
If the punishment is insufficient and the employee would like to sue their employer in court, they must wait until the government agency completes their investigation and sends them a Right to Sue Letter. Only after all of these steps have occurred will the worker be permitted to bring a private action against their employer and/or offender in civil court.
All further steps will depend on state law and the circumstances surrounding a particular incident. Thus, employees who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace should consult with a local employment sexual harassment lawyer immediately for further legal advice.
Do I Need to Hire an Employment Sexual Harassment Lawyer?
In general, victims of employment sexual harassment will have a limited amount of time to bring a lawsuit against their harasser. If that time expires before a claim is filed in court, then a victim can miss their opportunity to recover damages from their harasser. Therefore, if you have subjected to any type of employment sexual harassment, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local employment sexual harassment lawyer.
An experienced employment sexual harassment attorney will be able to assist you with filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency. If the government agency does not provide a sufficient legal remedy, then your lawyer can help you file a lawsuit in civil court.
Your lawyer can also offer you important legal guidance throughout the course of your matter, such as how to proceed with your case or what your rights are under the laws in your jurisdiction.
In addition, your lawyer can assist you in building a strong case against your harasser and help you to put a stop to any unlawful sexual conduct that you are experiencing in the workplace.