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Sexual Harassment Facts: Guide to Employment Discrimination

Sexual harassment is considered a prohibited type of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress enacted these federal laws decades ago to offer protections against discrimination.

Do Employment Discrimination Laws Prevent Sexual Harassment?

Despite federal laws to prevent sexual harassment, sex discrimination and harassment persist — however unwelcome — in some work environments. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment claims filed with the agency have decreased over the past decade. Yet such conduct continues.

Each year, there are new victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a 2022 EEOC report, sexual harassment on the job remains a significant concern for employers nationwide.

Sexual Harassment Training

Some states require employers with a certain number of employees to have a sexual harassment policy that requires sexual harassment training for workplace sexual harassment.

For example, in California, employers with five or more employees must provide training to their supervisory and nonsupervisory employees on sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention. The law requires the training to include practical examples of harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. This would include training on:

  • Abusive conduct
  • Offensive work environments
  • Harassing behavior
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual favors

This training seeks to prevent sexual harassment and abusive conduct in the workplace. Under California's requirements, an employer is not required to train an independent contractor. However, independent contractors count in determining whether the threshold of five employees required for harassment prevention training is met.

Identifying Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment comes in many forms, but regardless of its form, it can impact work performance and traumatize the person who experiences such treatment. Sexual harassment is not always as blatant or obvious as is the case, for example, with a sexual assault. It can be subtle or build up over time as a pattern of conduct or comments.

What Are Types of Sexual Harassment?

Offensive sexual language, unwanted sexual approaches, and other physical and verbal actions of a sexual nature may all constitute sexual harassment under certain circumstances.

There are two main types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo harassment
  • Hostile work environment

Sexual harassment can serve as the basis of a federal workplace discrimination claim. It's a form of sex discrimination. Discrimination laws prohibit such behavior.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

With quid pro quo harassment, a person with authority in the workplace asks for a sexual relationship or conduct of a sexual nature in exchange for some kind of employment action that favors the employee or applicant.

When a particular condition of employment depends on the employee or applicant engaging in certain offensive conduct, that's quid pro quo harassment.

What Is an Actionable Hostile Work Environment?

hostile work environment can take many forms. Offensive behavior can create a hostile work environment. If accepting or rejecting offensive behavior has a positive or a negative effect on the victim's employment or employment benefits, that can constitute a hostile work environment.

A hostile work environment exists when the conduct of superiors and co-workers is so pervasive that it creates an intimidating and offensive work environment. In such cases, the workplace becomes a discriminatory, abusive environment that impairs employees' ability to perform their jobs.

Key Facts About Sexual Harassment

Here are a few more key things to know about sexual harassment, harassers, and victims:

  • A boss, supervisor, co-worker, contractor, and even a non-employee can be a harasser.
  • You don't have to be the intended target of harassment to be a victim (and raise a claim).
  • Harassing conduct should not be encouraged or welcomed.
  • Gender isn't relevant when it comes to sexual harassment. The victim does not have to be of any specific gender identity.
  • Not all rude, ugly, or offensive behavior in the workplace is illegal harassment — a legally protected class must be the target.

What Does Federal Law Say About Sexual Harassment?

The Code of Federal Regulations explains that unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature amount to sexual harassment. This behavior must be one of the following:

  • A condition of someone's employment, in an explicit or implicit way
  • Used as a basis for an employment action such as a pay raise, promotion, or firing

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal government agency responsible for enforcing federal employment laws. The EEOC enforces laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee in employment decisions based on a protected status.

What Should You Do to File A Harassment Claim?

When faced with sexual harassment of any sort in the workplace, a good place to start is often at the source. Inform the harassing individual politely but clearly that their offending conduct is unwelcome and should stop immediately. This alone can sometimes be enough to put a quick stop to workplace harassment.

Many harassers may simply not recognize that their conduct is offensive and unwelcome. Informing a harasser may put an end to the behavior.

Unfortunately, there are times when just telling someone to stop unwelcome harassment will not do the trick. Doing so may be particularly difficult when the offender is someone like a direct supervisor. You may need to take additional actions to address the sexual harassment.

Follow Your Employer's Procedure

Many companies or workplaces have a complaint process set up to address these types of situations. This makes it easier to report harassment and implement appropriate corrective action.

If no such grievance or reporting system exists, there are other options. You can try to contact any of the following:

  • The human resources department
  • A human resources representative
  • The harasser's supervisor or superior

If these steps fail to resolve the issue, you may want to file a charge with the EEOC or local/state agency under harassment laws.

Filing a Charge with the EEOC

Filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may be your best option when you cannot stop the harassment through your employer's complaint channels. You may seek a remedy if your case proceeds after filing a charge with the EEOC. The remedy you seek depends on the facts of the case. For example, if an employer demotes you for rejecting sexual demands, you may seek to order a reinstatement into the original position.

Legal Help for a Workplace Harassment Claim

Federal and state laws protect you from sexual harassment in the workplace. If your employer is not doing anything to stop it, you may be able to file a sexual harassment complaint.

Contact an employment attorney in your area to discuss your situation. They can help determine whether you need further legal advice or representation for your discrimination complaint.

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