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Sexual Harassment Facts

Despite the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws, sexual discrimination remains an unfortunate part of the workplace. Sexual harassment affects large and small businesses alike. Business owners must prevent it as much as possible.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII and other harassment laws. Federal and state laws require businesses with over 15 employees to create a sexual harassment policy. Some states, such as California, require annual sexual harassment training for all employees.

Despite this legislation, sexual harassment complaints continue. Myths and misconceptions about harassment in the workplace are the same as they were 50 years ago. This article discusses the most common myths and what small business owners can do to combat them.

Facts and Myths About Sexual Harassment

There are many types of sexual harassment. They can overlap with other forms of harassment. Employers should take all reports of harassment seriously and thoroughly investigate all claims.

Myth: Employers are not responsible for workplace harassment

Fact: Under state and federal law, employers may be liable for workplace harassment if they do not have an anti-harassment policy in place.

Your employee handbook should describe your policy and how a victim can report harassment to human resources. Your HR department should follow state laws about training and compliance. They may be stricter than federal regulations.

Myth: Only women can be victims of sexual harassment

Fact: Anyone can be a target of sexual harassment. Men can sexually harass men. Women can harass women.

The gender, gender preference, or sexual orientation of the offender or the victim is irrelevant. For instance, a gay man couldn't say, "It wasn't harassment because I don't even like women."

Myth: Sexual harassment is sex-related. Harassers want a sexual relationship with their victims

Fact: Sexual harassment, like all harassment, is about power. The harasser or harassers are exploiting a power dynamic over the victim.

For example, a straight man teased another straight man about being gay. If that bothered the victim, it would be sexual harassment.

Myth: Sexual harassment requires physical contact

Fact: There are many forms of sexual harassment. Unwelcome sexual advances, verbal remarks, unwanted contact, or sexually explicit images can all be sexual harassment.

Myth: It isn't harassment if it is a compliment

Fact: Sexual harassment usually requires a pattern of behavior that the victim finds unacceptable or unwanted. The EEOC does not consider a single remark grounds for a sexual harassment claim. But repeated "compliments" may cross the line into harassment.

Myth: Harassment is between the harasser and the victim

Fact: Harassment involves everyone in the workplace. The basis for an effective sexual harassment claim is a hostile work environment.

A hostile work environment exists when workplace sexual harassment is so pervasive the workplace becomes toxic, intimidating, or offensive. This atmosphere even affects employees not involved in the relationship.

Myth: Only the victim can file a sexual harassment lawsuit

Fact: Anyone affected by harassment has a sexual harassment case. Witnessing constant harassment or humiliation inflicted on another person can be as difficult as being the victim. The only requirements are a hostile work environment and a lack of disciplinary action.

Myth: If the victim didn't complain, it was not harassment

Fact: The victim may be unable or unwilling to report the harassment first. In some types of harassment, known as quid pro quo, the harasser uses the victim's job to extract sexual favors from them.

Quid pro quo harassment can be overt ("Have sex with me, or I'll fire you"). It may be a suggestion that submitting to unwanted sexual advances will lead to job benefits. Or, the work environment may be such that the victim fears retaliation from coworkers if they report the harassment.

Myth: Only management or government agencies can stop sexual harassment.

Fact: Bystander intervention is one of the most effective ways to halt sexual harassment in its tracks. One of the discoveries of the #metoo movement has been that people in toxic workplaces would step up for harassed coworkers but don't feel empowered to help. Good employment practices and bystander training have helped reduce sexual harassment on the job.

Get Legal Advice

Employers are responsible for policies recognizing and preventing sexual harassment in their companies. Some states have mandatory requirements for training and reporting. To ensure you follow all regulations, consult an employment law attorney.

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