Sexual harassment is one of the most subtle forms of discrimination. Often victims of sexual harassment in the workplace do not receive lower pay, nor get passed over for promotions, nor get fired because of their gender. Rather, sexual harassment discrimination occurs when someone can no longer do their job because their workplace has become permeated with sexual innuendo and other inappropriate behavior. A good understanding of sexual harassment is necessary in protecting yourself against this kind of discrimination. This section contains many helpful articles that explain different definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as the various procedures in place for bringing a complaint based on sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment: What Is It?
In the federal context sexual harassment is considered to be a form of sexual discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."
Sexual harassment claims have been traditionally separated into two distinct kinds of harassment, though the line between the two have blurred in recent years. Quid Pro Quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or one in an authority position seeks a sexual relationship in exchange for favors such as promotions or raises, or threatens to punish or fire the employee if they fail to respond to advances. Hostile Work Environment harassment occurs through the presence of demeaning or sexual images, jokes, or threats in the workplace. The inappropriate behavior must be so pervasive as to create an intimidating and offensive work environment.
Sexual Harassment: Actions You Can Take
Sexual harassment commonly leaves its victims feeling powerless. However, there are some informal and formal steps victims can take to help ensure that they receive the protections that the law provides.
The first step in most sexual harassment cases is to make clear statements to the harassers that the behavior they are engaging in is offensive. If this does not result in a change in the offensive conduct the victim should examine the company's policies and procedures for handling a sexual harassment claim. If there is a policy in place the victim should follow the procedure carefully. If the company has no policy for dealing with sexual harassment the victim should bring their complaint to their immediate supervisor. If the supervisor is the offending party report should be made to their immediate supervisor. Regardless it is important to keep a record of the harassment, your complaints, and the communications about the harassment.
If you are unable to resolve the harassment complaint through your employer's internal procedures you should proceed to filing reports with state and federal agencies. Normally this involves contacting the local EEOC office. If the EEOC cannot resolve the situation they will file a lawsuit on your behalf or issue a "right to sue" letter and the matter can be addressed in a civil lawsuit.
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