Sexual harassment is a type of employment discrimination consisting of unwanted sexual advances, sexual conduct, or other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature, usually at the workplace.

What Is Considered Sexual Harassment In the Workplace?

Conduct that is Considered sexual harassment includes:

  • Direct sexual conduct by employer: Overt sexual remarks or sexual advances made by an employer toward his or her employees are, obviously, considered sexual harassment.
  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment: Another type of sexual harassment involves an employer basing employment decisions on satisfaction of a sexual demand. Negotiating the terms of employment in exchange for sexual conduct or demoting an employee who refuses the employer’s sexual demands are examples of quid pro quo harassment.
  • Hostile work environment sexual harassment: A work environment where an employee is subject to severe or pervasive verbal or physical sexual behavior is another type of sexual harassment. Employers are required to keep the work environment free from sexual harassment and may be held liable if the conduct of their employees create a hostile work environment.
  • Stereotypes: Sexual harassment based on stereotypes typically involves an employer, co-worker, or supervisor harassing and employee who fails to conform to typical male or female stereotypes.

What Are Some Examples of Sexual Harassment In the Workplace?

Some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Comments or jokes about a person’s body or physical appearance
  • Jokes of a sexual nature
  • Request for dates
  • Request for sexual favors
  • Spreading rumors of a person’s sex life
  • Touching another person’s body without consent
  • Sending pictures or emails of a sexual nature to another

Which Laws Prohibit Sexual Harassment?

Both federal and state laws prohibit harassment in employment on the basis of sex or gender. Both the federal government and states have created agencies that investigate harassment claims and enforce the laws prohibiting sexual harassment.

  • Federal Law: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Federal sex discrimination and harassment laws by investigating claims of discrimination and harassment in the employment context. Generally, in order to file a lawsuit in Federal court, an employee must first file a claim with the EEOC within 180 days of the conduct.
  • State Law: Many states also have their own laws to regulate sexual harassment in employment and harassment of a criminal nature. They also have agencies to enforce these laws. State deadlines for filing claims vary.
  • Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from taking a negative employment action against an employee because he or she reports sexual harassment or participates in a sexual harassment investigation. Such negative employment actions include demotions, decrease in pay, firing, and restricting benefits.

How Can I File a Sexual Harassment Complaint?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal under state and federal laws. To file a sexual harassment claim, you must:

  • First review your company’s policy regarding sexual harassment claims. Your employer should have a procedure in place so that employees are able make a complaint through the human resources department of your company.
  • If that fails, you can file a claim with a government administration agency such as the EEOC.
  • Once a complaint with EEOC is filed, the agency will investigate your claim and may take action with your employer.
  • If that still doesn’t resolve the problem, you may have to file a lawsuit in civil court. Filing a civil complaint will require you to provide evidence in support of your claim, such as written statements or witness testimony.

Most state laws require you to “exhaust the possible remedies” before you can file a lawsuit.  In particular, filing with a government agency is usually required before you can file a private lawsuit. 

Who Is Protected Under Sexual Harassment Laws?

Sexual harassment laws protect:

  • Female employees harassed by male employers, supervisors, or co-workers.
  • Male employees harassed by female employers, supervisors, or co-workers.
  • Male or female employees harassed by employers, supervisors, or co-workers of their own sex, in certain situations. “Same-sex sexual harassment” is usually a result of the harasser's belief that the individual does not conform to a sexual stereotype.

Sexual Harassment Policies

Employers are usually required to post policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. These policies should address:

  • To whom an employee report sexual harassment
  • The procedures for the employer's investigation of sexual harassment claims
  • Corrective measures where the sexual harassment claim is confirmed

Do I Need a Sexual Harassment Attorney?

Both investigating and proving a sexual harassment claim can be difficult. An employment lawyer can help you file within the deadlines for sexual harassment claims appropriate to your state. Additionally, the EEOC investigators are often overworked and cannot investigate your claim immediately. A lawyer will help you investigate your claim and inform you of the various options you can pursue.

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