How is Sexual Harassment Defined in the Workplace?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a type of discriminatory practice, which is illegal based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The term sexual harassment encompasses any form of unwelcome sexual advances, lewd or suggestive commentary, verbal or physical behaviors of a sexual nature, or requests for sexual favors. Harassment can also come from the same sex, even if both are heterosexual.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you should begin by documenting each and every event where the harassment has occurred, with as many details as possible. Make it clear to your harasser that their comments and behaviors are unwelcome. Then find an experienced employment attorney to assist you through the process of filing a complaint.
How Can the National Network of Employment Lawyers Help You?
For over a decade, our network has been representing clients in sexual harassment in the workplace claims. Through our dealings in court, we have met and worked alongside some phenomenal attorneys and law firms. We realize that we cannot realistically help every client who comes our way due to geographical location, jurisdiction or other limitations.
Therefore, we created the National Network of Employment Lawyers to assist clients in finding the right attorney for your workplace sexual harassment case. Finding the right fit between client and attorney is not easy, but we have connections to firms with such a wide variety of skill sets and sizes, that we know we can help you.
Whether looking for a team in a large firm for your claim against a corporate giant, or an individual attorney who works on a smaller scale, we’ll connect you with the legal representation that best suits your needs. Contact us today to begin the process.
How Do I Know if I Have Been Sexually Harassed?
We usually tell clients that if they feel like they have been sexually harassed, it’s likely true that it has happened. It is not recognizing, but proving the harassment that can sometimes be tricky. There are two different kinds of treatment that fall under the sexual harassment protections. Look below to see if your experiences fall in line with these parameters.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
In Latin, the term “quid pro quo” literally translates to mean “this for that.” In sexual harassment terms, it means sexual favors in exchange for some kind of work benefit. The exchange could also be veiled as a threat: Perform this sexual behavior for me or else you’ll experience some sort of detriment on the job. The perpetrator of quid pro quo sexual harassment is someone in a position over you at work. He or she could be a direct supervisor, manager, boss or executive for whom you work directly. It could also be someone in that hierarchy from a different department. It just means that they have the power to hold either promises or punishments over you if you do not give in to their requests.
When filing a quid pro quo sexual harassment case, it is important to have as many details as possible to help support your claim. Try to remember specifically what was said by whom and how it was delivered, in what context. Many of these cases come down to He Said, She Said arguments, so the more detailed evidence you have, the better.
If there is any record in writing of these types of threats or promises, those are the best. It could be something as simple as an email from your harasser with a comment like, “I’m still waiting on an answer to what we discussed earlier.” Granted, an email like that alone won’t prove sexual harassment. But, alongside your detailed documentation of dates, times and what was said, it can help paint the broader picture of the harassment you endured.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile Work Environment cases involve either repetitive behaviors or speech habits that create a sexually charged atmosphere, or severe, persistent remarks or acts that make it difficult for you to perform your job to your fullest. It could also be a chauvinistic atmosphere that degrades the contributions of women in the workplace. If the acts or comments make you feel uncomfortable to the point that you avoid interaction with that person, they have created this kind of charged environment.
The biggest difference between hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment cases is that the perpetrator could be anyone at all in a hostile work environment claim. While it could still be a boss or someone in a management position, it could also be a coworker, an underling, an outside vendor or contractor, or even a client or customer who is creating the hostile atmosphere.
Hostile work environment claims require careful documentation and are especially difficult to prove. Because there could be long periods of time between acts, or because each act taken singly may not be considered severe, claims could be dismissed as the victim overreacting.
Good practice for anyone who has experienced even a single act of sexual harassment is to document the date, time, names or those in attendance and what was said. Keep a record from the first comment or act. The hope is that it may end there and only be a one-time affront. However, if it happens again and again, your record keeping could mean the difference between a provable case and one that is dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
What to Do If You Think You Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work
Again, documentation is key to proving workplace sexual harassment. But you also must take other steps to ensure that you have clearly done what you can to stop the behavior from persisting on your end.
- Tell the person they have offended you.
At the very first instance of sexual harassment, let the perpetrator know that you do not welcome such behavior. This can be difficult to do since many times we are so surprised at the time of the event. In a case like that, an email could be your best bet for two reasons.
First, using a company-provided email address to send to the perpetrator your displeasure sends a clear message to the person that they offended you or made you feel uncomfortable. You do not have to be confrontational. You could simply state that what they did (be specific: “when you made the comment about xyz” or “what you said about the way I looked”) made you uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if they would not repeat such behavior.
Ideally, the inappropriate comments, touching, or requests for dates will stop there and the other person may even apologize. If not, however, you have the second benefit, which is a written record of what happened, by whom, and proof that you made it clear the behavior was not welcome.
- Report the behavior.
Once you have alerted the perpetrator to your feelings about his or her actions, you need to report the behavior to someone in the workplace. This can be difficult if your own manager or Human Resources representative is the perpetrator of the harassment. The good news is that the law does not mandate to whom you report, just that you do make a report of the incident.
If you are more comfortable with your boss than with HR, you can report it to your boss. If the manager on duty at the time is close friends with the perpetrator, you can report it to an off-duty manager or supervisor of a different department. Most companies have explicit rules to follow once someone makes a claim of sexual harassment. As long as you are clear in your communication that you feel that you have been sexually harassed, they must follow protocol to look into it.
- Hire an employment attorney.
Contact an experienced employment attorney who specializes in workplace sexual harassment claims. Trusting a local ad or google search may not find you the right lawyer or firm for your specific case. Instead, seek out someone with references and a proven track record for representing clients with similar experiences.
Our National Network of Employment Lawyers was created to help with this very step. We recognize that it can be difficult to find the right size and style law firm or individual attorney who can handle your case in your local area right when you need the help the most. This is why we have partnered with skilled employment lawyers across the country in every area of expertise.
The employment lawyers and firms in our national network have stellar reputations for client care and attention to the personal details that make your case unique. They have experience in litigation from filing initial claims to bringing cases to court and seeing them through to a trial’s completion.
Sexual harassment is a violation of your safety and your right to work. It is not right to feel threatened or taken advantage of by sexual misconduct or suggestive commentary in the workplace. You have a legal right to work that is protected by law. If you feel that right is being threatened, take the steps to stop it and report it immediately.
Statute of Limitations on Sexual Harassment Claims
How to Report Sexual Harassment at Work