Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is legally defined as any unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior, which can include verbal; e.g., derogatory comments, tales of sexual exploits, or physical harassment; e.g., leering, inappropriate touching, asking for sexual favors, displaying derogatory posters or art, and other advances or inappropriate conduct. Sexual harassment is illegal and is a form of sex discrimination, which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in employment settings.

Sexual harassment remains a persistent problem in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives thousands of charges of sexual harassment every year. Fortunately, all employees have legal rights in the workplace, and an employer is responsible for protecting those rights, keeping the workplace free from sexual harassment, and maintaining a hostile-free workplace environment.

However, if you find yourself a victim of sexual harassment while on-the-job, there are steps you can take to bring the harassment to an end:

  1. Be proactive.
    If you are being sexually harassed, don’t just shrug it off or ignore it. Take action and seek the advice of your employer so that you can resolve the issue and stop the harassment.
  2. Let the harasser know about his or her offensive behavior.
    Though harassment may seem obvious to most people, there are some individuals who are unaware of how their behavior makes others feel and will actually stop once you have explained to them what they are doing. Be direct about their behavior. They may even apologize. However, if you are nervous or afraid to confront the situation directly with the harasser, contact your boss or an HR manager to address the situation.
  3. Keep a written record of all incidents of the harassment.
    In the moment(s) when you feel you are being sexually harassed, be sure to write down the date, time, and details of the harassing behavior. Be as specific as possible as to the types of comments or actions that are being directed at you. Also note if anyone witnessed the harassment.
  4. Don’t keep the harassment bottled up – seek out help.
    If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is important that you talk about it. Ask family and friends as well as your colleagues for support. Don’t allow yourself to bottle up your feelings about the situation. Taking appropriate action empowers you and stops you from feeling like a victim until the situation is resolved.
  5. Protect yourself.
    If your harassment situation is beyond teasing and general offensiveness to a point where you feel in danger, take steps immediately. Alert your employer and the local authorities, and never allow yourself to be left alone with the harasser.

Finally, there are certain steps that employers can take to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place. Employers should establish, distribute to all employees, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. In most cases, the policy and procedure should be in writing.

Every worker has the right to work in a harassment-free environment, and sexual harassment should never be taken lightly. If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment, notify your employer at once. If the harassment continues, or the harasser is in fact your boss, contact a sexual harassment lawyer.

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