Sexual harassment in the workplace can be considered a type of employment discrimination that is illegal under state and federal law. The legal definition of sexual harassment in the workplace is unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
The perpetrator of the workplace sexual harassment can be a co-worker, supervisor or manager. The harassment may be verbal or physical and may persist outside of the workplace.
Am I the Victim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
At first, it may be difficult to determine if you’re the subject of sexual harassment. Typically, sexual harassment is more severe than one off-handed comment or an inappropriate joke. You may be a victim of workplace sexual harassment if the harassment:
- Is unwanted;
- Continues over a long period of time, possibly increasing in intensity and frequency;
- Makes you feel uncomfortable, threatened or intimidated;
- Results in a decline of your work performance;
- Causes you to skip work or reschedule your regular shifts to avoid coming into contact with your perpetrator;
- Makes you turn down promotions;
- Results in a demotion or termination;
- Makes you quit your job;
- Continues after you’ve filed a complaint with your employer;
- Persists outside of the workplace through phone calls or text messages;
- Impacts your personal life, health or well being; or
- Results in your coworkers also being harassed by a common supervisor or manager.
How Do I File a Sexual Harassment Complaint with My Employer?
If you feel that you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s essential that you notify your employer immediately. The following steps can help ensure that a complaint is properly filed with your employer:
- Write down the details of the incident including the date, time and location, and the names of possible witnesses;
- Keep evidence of the harassment, especially if the harassment occurs through text messages and emails;
- Report the incident to your human resource department and your supervisor; and
- Ask that the harassment report is documented in your employee file.
Although it may be to difficult file a complaint about the sexual harassment that you’re experiencing, it’s important to do so. Failing to report the sexual harassment to your employer can result in the harassment persisting and may also impede your ability to file an effective legal claim in a civil lawsuit.
If your harasser is your supervisor or human resources administrator, you should report the sexual harassment to another high ranking individual within your organization, such as an in-house attorney. Some larger employers offer employees anonymous tip lines to file reports of sexual harassment over the phone.
Can I Sue My Employer If I’m the Victim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Yes, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against your employer for the damages that you incur as a result of the sexual harassment, such as lost wages, medical treatment, and pain and suffering. Employers have a duty to provide employees a safe working environment that is free from all forms of discrimination.
Employers that fail to address or properly investigate reports of sexual harassment may be subject to civil lawsuits by victims. Many states require that a victim of workplace sexual harassment first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar state agency before filing a civil lawsuit against the employer.
What are the Different Kinds of Sexual Harassment Claims?
The two different types of sexual harassment claims are a hostile work environment claim and a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim. A hostile work environment claim is brought against an employer when the workplace sexual harassment becomes so severe that any reasonable person would find that the victim’s employment environment is intimidating, unhealthy or intolerable.
A quid pro quo sexual harassment claim is made against an employer when the victim’s supervisor or manager requests sexual favors in exchange for pay increases, time off, bonuses, continued employment, or promotions.
If you are unfairly demoted or fired by your employer after you report an incident of sexual harassment to your employer or a governmental agency, you may also have a legal claim against your employer for retaliation.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Sexual Harassment Claim?
You may be able to report sexual harassment to your employer on your own, but filing a sexual harassment claim against your employer requires a strong understanding of federal and state sexual harassment and employment laws.
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should consider contacting an employment lawyer for help during this emotional time. An attorney will work on your behalf to gather evidence in your case, determine liability, calculate your damages, and file the appropriate claim against your employer.