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Sexual Harassment: Actions You Can Take

Being on the receiving end of sexual harassment often makes victims feel powerless. Many are falsely told that they can do nothing about the harassment. They are told to remain silent and tolerate it.

In reality, a sexual harassment victim can take many actions to stop the problem. There are harassment laws in place to protect victims. A victim can take informal actions like speaking up. Or they can take formal actions like reporting sexual harassment to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Read on to learn about the different types of actions you can take if you are a victim of sexual harassment.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

There are two common types of sexual harassmentquid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sexual harassment includes:

  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Sexual assault
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature

Sexual harassment can come from any source, including coworkers, managers, customers, etc. No one should have to work in an offensive work environment. It is far from the conditions of fair employment. No condition of employment can involve having to tolerate sex discrimination. Luckily, there are anti-discrimination laws in place to protect workers. The same federal laws that protect against sexual orientation, national origin, and gender identity discrimination also protect against sex discrimination. Several state laws are also in place to prevent employment discrimination.

If you are experiencing workplace sexual harassment, continue reading to learn about the actions you can take.

First Step: Speak Up

In many sexual harassment cases, especially those involving a hostile work environment, the responsible parties may or may not realize their conduct is offensive. If you are a victim of harassment, your first step toward resolving the problem should be to tell the responsible party to stop their offensive behavior. In some cases, if the responsible party is a reasonable person, they will stop such conduct and take corrective action. If the issue isn't resolved at this stage, you have at least put the harasser on notice that you find their conduct offensive.

Follow Your Employer's Complaint Procedure

What if the offensive conduct doesn't stop, or the harasser tells you they don't care what you say? Some companies have a detailed procedure to report harassment and file a discrimination complaint. If your company has such a procedure under its sexual harassment policy, you should follow it to the letter. Take note of any time limits set out in that policy. For example, many employer policies designate someone to whom you must report harassment. This might be human resources (HR). If your company has designated certain staff responsible for receiving sexual harassment complaints, that is where you should start.

If your company has no set procedure for reporting sexual harassment, you should bring your complaint to your immediate supervisor. If your supervisor is committing the harassment, file a complaint with your supervisor's immediate superior. It is crucial, particularly in hostile environment cases, to ensure your company's management is aware of the harassment.

Remember to record any harassment episodes, your complaints, and any incidents related to the harassment. This includes dates, times, persons involved, and anything spoken.

Administrative Charge

If you are unable to resolve your harassment complaint by using your employer's internal procedures, and if you wish to pursue the matter, you will need to file an administrative charge with the appropriate governmental agency. This agency is usually the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state's human rights or civil rights enforcement agency. The governmental agency will investigate your sexual harassment claim and attempt to resolve it by negotiating with your employer.

If the agency cannot resolve your complaint and determines your claim is valid, it will issue a "right to sue" letter. This letter means that you may bring your case to court.


If the appropriate governmental agency issues a right to sue letter, you may bring a civil lawsuit for any injuries you suffered from the sexual harassment. You do not need to show physical injuries. The most common injuries in a sexual harassment case are the victims' emotional injuries.

If your sexual harassment suit is successful, your remedies may include reversing adverse employment decision, potentially resulting in:

  • Reinstatement if you lost your job
  • Back pay (multiplied by three times) if you lost money or missed out on a raise
  • Fringe employment benefits if you lost them
  • Damages for emotional distress
  • A requirement that your employer initiate policies or training to stop harassment
  • Your attorney's fees and court costs

Facing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace? Talk to an Employment Law Lawyer Today for Legal Information

If you're a victim of sexual harassment, you can take steps to stop the problem. These cases tend to be quite complicated, and your employer will likely have a team of lawyers.

Perhaps you are an independent contractor unsure of what sexual harassment laws apply to you. Maybe you are a full-time employee whose work performance is being affected due to frequent sexual harassment. For legal advice, talk to an experienced employee rights attorney in your area. They can help you pursue an employment action.

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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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