Sexual harassment in the workplace violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but it continues to happen with regularity today. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has created specific guidelines as to what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace but it doesn’t mean offenders won’t still claim ignorance when confronted with a sexual harassment claim. The bottom line is this: sexual harassment in the workplace is a real concern and if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment you have rights.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
As defined by the EEOC, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on a person’s sex that specifically violates an individual’s civil rights when it occurs at the workplace. According to the federal commission, any requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature is not tolerated if it:
- Interferes with work performance
- Creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment
- Affects employment decisions, including promotions
WHAT WORKPLACE BEHAVIORS MAY BE DEFINED AS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Each situation is unique, but the most important judgment to make is whether the offensive behavior was unwelcomed or not. Anyone can be the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace – not just women – and those of the same sex can be guilty of harassing each other. Some of the more common examples of sexual harassment at work are:
- Comments or innuendos of a sexual nature
- Unwelcome touching or physical contact
- Sexually suggestive jokes
- Displaying explicit material
- Unwelcome advances or requests for sexual favors
WHAT TYPE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS MOST COMMON TODAY?
There are two main categories of sexual harassment that are prevalent today – quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment.
- Quid pro quo: This harassment category refers to an offer being made, such as a promotion, new assignment, a raise, or simply keeping your job, in exchange for unwanted sexual favors or conduct. This is considered quid pro quo (which translates to “this for that” from Latin) when the request for sexual favors or unwanted advances are positioned as a requirement of employment or if it is used to make employment decisions.
- Hostile work environment: Sexual harassment in the workplace cases that involve a hostile work environment are common mainly because there are so many ways to violate the EEOC’s definition of workplace sexual harassment. A judge will determine whether the following factors were in play when deciding if a hostile environment truly is interfering with the employee’s ability to function at work:
- How frequently was the offensive behavior happening?
- Was the conduct physical, verbal or both?
- What is the relationship between the harasser and the claimant? (co-worker/peer or supervisor)
- How many other individuals participated in the harassment?
- Was the harassment aimed at one person or a group?
- Was the conduct hostile or offensive, or both?
IF MY RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED DUE TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT, WHAT CAN I DO?
First, retain the services of a workplace discrimination attorney. They’ll assist by walking you through the process of first determining if your claims are valid under the eyes of the law (they’ll provide input, but you can file a claim regardless), filing the EEOC complaint, and then by supporting you throughout the process of either mediating the claim with the employer, or taking the employer to court via a lawsuit.
A variety of remedies may be available to you if it is determined you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, including:
- Reinstatement or hiring
- Back pay
- A deserved promotion
- Punitive damages (designed to punish the employer)
- Compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering)
- Front pay (payment for potential future losses)
- Recuperation of attorney’s fees, court costs, and expert witness fees
Sexual harassment still exists. It hasn’t been eradicated and it isn’t slowing down; it is simply taking on new forms. From harassment via text, instant message, or other means of electronic communication to the gray areas around what constitutes “safe for the workplace”, there are, unfortunately, far too many cases being brought to the EEOC every year. In 2016, there were 12,860 EEOC sexual harassment charges filed, compared to 12,573 in 2015.
If you feel your rights have been violated, don’t stand in the shadows any longer – take control of the situation, partner with a proven law firm, and stand up for your rights.