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What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is sexual harassment when harassing conduct affects an individual’s employment, interferes with a worker’s job performance, or creates a hostile work environment.

Workers are protected against sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Workers may also be protected under state laws that can give additional protections against unwanted harassment.

What Are Types of Sexual Harassment?

The primary forms of sexual harassment include quid pro quo and a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a supervisor or boss encouraging an employee to provide sexual favors or cooperation in exchange for benefits, like a raise or not getting laid off.

A hostile work environment is a workplace atmosphere that involves unwanted sexual contact, suggestive comments, jokes, or sexual gestures or advances that unreasonably interfere with a worker’s ability to do their job. Some examples of what might be considered a hostile work environment include:

  • Repeated sexually offensive comments
  • Sexual or lewd jokes, comics, or pictures
  • Explicit or graphic comics or pictures
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Unwanted touching
  • Standing too close or brushing their body against someone
  • Talking about sexual fantasies
  • Making sexual gestures

What Should I Do if I Was Sexually Harassed at Work?

If you experience workplace sexual harassment, tell the harasser to stop. If the harassment continues, report it immediately to a supervisor or the human resources department. Reporting sexual harassment can protect your rights against further harassment. Once your supervisor becomes aware of the harassment, they may be responsible for failing to stop the harassment.

If the harassment continues, you can take your claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state agency. If the state or federal agency can’t resolve your complaint, you can file a lawsuit in civil court for money damages. If you believe you were the victim of sexual harassment, a sexual harassment attorney can give you legal advice for filing a sexual harassment claim.

Can My Employer Fire Me For Reporting Harassment?

Employers cannot retaliate against an employee who reports sexual harassment. Reporting sexual harassment that is against state or federal law is a protected activity under employment laws. Retaliation may include:

  • Firing or threatening to fire an employee
  • Demotion or denying a promotion
  • Pay reduction or worse working conditions
  • Threatening to call immigration

Can a Woman Be a Sexual Harasser?

Sexual harassment is not limited to any gender or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment can occur between men, between women, or between people of any gender identity. Men and women can both be victims or harassers and employers should take any allegations of harassment seriously as soon as they become aware to take prompt and reasonable care to prevent any harassing behavior.

Jokes Can Be Harassment

Just because other people are laughing at a co-worker’s joke does not mean that it may not be considered harassment. A joke can be sexual harassment when it is severe or part of a pervasive harassing work environment that interferes with work performance.

Whether a single joke is considered enough to be harassment may depend on whether it was severe enough to reasonably create an offensive work environment. A sexual harassment lawyer can help you understand your rights if you are dealing with sexual harassment on the job.

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