What Is Sexual Harassment and How Can You Combat It?

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

As you probably already know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. What you may not know, however, is that workplace sexual harassment comes in two forms: hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile work environment harassment takes place when you receive unwanted sexual advances from one or more fellow employees. These unwanted advances can be physical, verbal, or both. These must be so severe that they negatively alter your working conditions and create a hostile work environment for you to attempt to work in.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when your supervisor, manager, or someone else higher up the corporate ladder requests sexual favors from you in exchange for a job action. For example, your supervisor might say, “I’ll fire you unless you sleep with me.” Or your manager might say something like, “I can see to it that you get a promotion, you know. All you need to do is sleep with me.”

In order for conduct to be considered sexual harassment, it must be seen as sexual harassment by not only you, but also by a reasonable person in your same circumstance. In other words, sexual harassment must adhere to what the law refers to as the “reasonable man standard,” even though that term applies to reasonable women as well.

It’s also important to note that sexual harassment doesn’t always happen between coworkers. It can also be perpetrated by one of your company’s clients, customers, suppliers, etc.

Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Some workplace conducts are explicitly inappropriate and therefore can be clearly defined as sexual harassment. These conducts include, but are not limited to, such things as the following:

  • Kissing you without your invitation or permission
  • Groping your breasts or genitals
  • Requesting sexual favors from you
  • Making sexually explicit comments to you
  • Sending you uninvited and unwanted sexual messages via text, email, etc.
  • Sexually assaulting or raping you

Other Forms of Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment can also be difficult to detect in the workplace, especially if it’s a hostile work environment situation. Conduct that might at first seem merely irritating and inappropriate can become more severe when repeated over time. That’s why it’s important to understand common types of inappropriate workplace behavior. This includes, but us not limited to, the following:

  • Making and/or telling sexual jokes
  • Talking about your own sex life or asking your coworkers about their sex lives
  • Repeatedly complimenting a coworker’s appearance
  • Sending sexually explicit emails or texts to another employee
  • Repeatedly engaging in acts of unwanted touching such as hugs, putting a hand on a coworker’s back, etc.
  • Spreading sexual rumors about a coworker
  • Circulating nude and/or sexually explicit photos around the office

How to Report Sexual Harassment

Step 1. Confront the Perpetrator

If you’re being sexually harassed at work, your first step should be to tell the perpetrator to stop. This is especially true if it’s a case where (s)he might not be aware that you find his or her behavior inappropriate and unwelcome. Oftentimes, telling someone to stop, even though it may be difficult, can be effective and may be the easiest way for you to quickly put an end to his or her sexually harassing behavior.

Step 2. Inform Your Supervisor

If you have told the perpetrator to stop acting in a sexual manner toward you and (s)he has not stopped, it’s time to go directly to your supervisor. This is especially true if you have any reason to fear the perpetrator, or if what (s)he did was extremely severe in nature. Do not put yourself in harm’s way. Let your supervisor and HR deal with the employee in question.

Your supervisor is responsible for your wellbeing and legally required to put a stop to the sexual harassment and/or the hostile work environment. Check your employee handbook to see if it contains guidance on what to do if you’re being sexually harassed.

If, however, your supervisor is the person who is sexually harassing you, you can go to either his or her own supervisor or to your company’s HR department. If neither of those options works, then you will have to consult with an attorney for your next course of action.

Step 3. Document Your Claims

Make sure you document, in writing, your harassment from the time it first occurs. If you asked the employee in question to stop, document that. If you informed your supervisor, document that as well. In addition, you should keep evidence or copies thereof of any proof you have of your sexual harassment. This can include inappropriate emails, text messages, etc.

You should also keep an ongoing detailed journal of the date and time of each sexual harassment incident. Describe what happened and who did it. Who else was there when it happened? How has it affected you and your job performance? Try to be as detailed as possible so you can later prove your case to government agencies or to a jury if and when the time comes.

Do You Need a Sexual Harassment Attorney?

Have you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace? Has it been satisfactorily resolved by your company in-house? If not, you should contact an employment law attorney experienced in handling sexual harassment cases. Only a legal professional with deep knowledge and experience in these types of cases can provide you with the advice, counsel, and ultimate aggressive representation you need. (S)he likely will advise you to complain to government agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that enforce Title VII and/or to your state’s fair employment office. Keep in mind that you must file an EEOC complaint before you can file an actual lawsuit against your employer.

Work with a Local Harassment Lawyer

Once you’ve become a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s time to take action, the sooner the better. You cannot afford to let the situation fester or leave its resolution up to chance.

Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!

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