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Sexual Harassment

Learn more about sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment can occur in many different social settings such as the workplace, the home, school, churches, etc. Harassers or victims may be of any gender. In most modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal.

 

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment at work is a form of illegal employment discrimination. The law defines sexual harassment as, unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment. To be illegal, sexual harassment must be unwelcome. Unwelcome means unwanted and non-consensual.

Hostile work environment

Hostile work environment refers to a situation in which the employer, supervisor, or co-worker does or says things that make the victim feel uncomfortable because of his or her sex. This could be comments about your gender being inferior, sexual comments or being treated differently than people of the opposite sex are treated.

“Quid-pro-quo” is Latin for “this for that.” It is a trade. When the trade made or suggested is on the basis of sex, it is illegal. This would be the case an employer made sex a prerequisite to getting something in the workplace. For example: “sleep with me and you’ll get a promotion.” That’s illegal.

Sexual Harassment Behavior

Conduct “of a sexual nature” or “based on sex”

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Many different kinds of verbal, physical, nonverbal or visual conduct of a sexual nature may be sexual harassment. Here are some examples:

Verbal or written

• Commenting about a person’s clothing, personal behavior, romantic relationships, or body;
• Making sexual or sex-based jokes or innuendoes;
• Requesting sexual favors or dates;
• Spreading rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life; and/or
• Threatening a person for rejecting or refusing sexual advances or overtures;

Physical

• Impeding or blocking someone’s movement;
• Inappropriate touching of a person’s body or clothing;
• Assaulting (touching someone against their will or without their consent).

Nonverbal

• Staring at a person’s body;
• Making derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature; and/or
• Following a person around.
• Displaying or sharing posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature.

Sexual harassment does not have to be sexually suggestive. Harassing conduct can also be unlawful if the be behavior is based on your sex or gender. For example, if you are a woman working in construction on an otherwise all-male job, and you are the only one who is being criticized and verbally abused even though your job performance is the same as your male co-workers, such conduct may be a form of unlawful sexual harassment.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Help

What to do if you're being sexually harassed at work.

1. Document the harassment

If any offers or threats are being made or you feel you are being harassed due to your gender, write down the date, time, place and any witnesses to the occurrence. Don't worry if there are no witnesses. Harassers are usually too smart to do it in front of others.

2. Keep your notes in a safe place

Don't put them on your work computer, in a desk drawer or somewhere where your employer can take them.

3. Gather your evidence

If the harasser is texting, emailing or sending cards or notes, keep copies of these messages.Make sure you take a screen shot of any texts or Snapchats and print them so you don't lose them you no longer have your device. Print out emails, too, and keep them in a safe place.

4. Report the harassment at work

The Supreme Court says that reporting sexual harassment is a requirement before you can take legal action. You have to give the employer a chance to correct the situation. Make sure you've followed your company’s sexual harassment policy, if there is one, and reported your concern to the correct person.The employer should have alternate people to report it to in case the designed reportee is your harasser.

5. File a complaint with the EEOC

If you've already reported harassment at work and the employer won't take action, filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the next step. Depending on your state, you have 180 or 300 days from the date of discrimination to file. You are protected from retaliation if you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC

6. Find legal advice

Response can connect you with free and confidential legal resources and offer you individual support and advocacy services.

 

Sexual Harassment Outside the Workplace

Generally, only employers can be sued for sexual harassment. For example, if a man grabs a woman's breast in a bar, that is still sexual harassment but would be punishable under different laws. If you experience sexual harassment in public, you can call the police and report disorderly conduct or sexual battery. The sooner you are able to report the incident, the higher the likelihood that the offender will be apprehended. Another form of sexual harassment outside of the workplace is stalking, which is addressed on the next page.

How can we help?

If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed at their workplace or outside of work, please contact us.