Sexual harassment occurs in many American workplaces. Sexual harassment is illegal under both state and federal anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is the federal body charged with regulating and enforcing anti-discrimination law which includes sexual harassment at work.
Sexual harassment is defined as any kind of harassment of a sexual nature that creates an undesirable work environment or leads to an adverse employment decision.
The person who is harassing could be a co-worker, a supervisor, manager, your employer, anyone who works for your employer or even anyone else who has a connection with your place of employment such as a customer or client.
Important Facts to Remember About Sexual Harassment
One of the reasons why so much sexual harassment exists is that there is a misunderstanding that sexual harassment is just males harassing females. This is not the case as it could also be:
- females harassing males;
- males harassing other males; or
- females harassing other females.
Sexual harassers rarely harass a single individual. There is often a pattern of sexual harassment in a particular workplace. For example, it may have become an unwritten pattern that a particular manager gave promotion or work benefits if some kind in return for sexual favors.
If this has been suggested to you by your own manager or supervisor, you may find that the same behavior has occurred before. This example of sexual harassment is not permitted under state and federal law.
Your employer would be expected to ensure that this does not happen and respond to a complaint made about such an experience of harassment.
Sexual harassment may take several forms. Casual comments in the workplace may not be regarded as sexual harassment unless they have a negative effect on your ability to work because of the level of discomfort involved.
Sexual harassment could take any of the following forms if they are of an unwelcome sexual nature:
- verbal comments, taunts or jibes;
- physical contact such as groping, touching, and any forced sexual attention up to and including rape;
- communication by written form, including notes and letters;
- electronic communication such as emails, social media messages or comments;
- phone calls or text messages.
What to Do If You Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work
The sooner you deal with any incident of sexual harassment the better. If you do not report the incident or incidents they are unlikely to stop and the harder it will be later to get your employer to do something about it.
If the harassment becomes a potentially criminal matter, you may need to report the incident to the police, e.g. if there has been any kind of sexual assault which could be a felony.
You should keep a record of any incident that could be considered sexual harassment. This could include:
- time, date and location of incident(s);
- form the harassment took;
- any physical evidence such as text messages, emails, letters, etc.
- recording of any verbal communication you can make such as using a voice recorder whenever you are being contacted by the harasser;
Report the incident(s) to your HR department, a supervisor, manager or anyone higher up if the harasser is your supervisor. Make sure you keep a record of a written report made and any response you get from whoever you report the incident to.
If you do not get any response from your employer or face some sort of retaliation, you should file a complaint with the EEOC or state employment body.
The EEOC normally only investigates complaints from employees who work in a workplace with 15 or more employees.
There is a time limit on bringing a complaint to the EEOC, which is 180 days from the date of the incident. You will need as much supporting evidence as possible so that the harassment case can be investigated by the EEOC.
If the EEOC cannot resolve the complaint after bringing it up with your employer, then they should give you written “permission to sue” your employer.
To do so, you will have to file a lawsuit through the court. If you can prove that your employer has violated federal or state law, you may be awarded damages.
Get Help Today
You will find that an employment lawyer can help you prepare a complaint to take to the EEOC or a lawsuit against your employer if all else fails. You are welcome to fill out a free evaluation form available below to help find a suitable lawyer near you today.