Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue, whether you are the victim or the employer. It has the potential to damage a person’s life financially, physically and emotionally. It not only affects the victim, but also their loved ones and coworkers too.
If you believe you have been sexually harassed at work, you may have legal options. The starting point is to meet with an experienced employment law attorney who can evaluate the facts of your claim and determine if you have a claim and against the alleged harasser, your employer or someone else.
Understanding what sexual harassment is
Before you seek compensation, it is important to determine whether you have indeed been harassed sexually. The United States Department of Justice defines sexual harassment as ‘any kind of sexual contact and/or behavior that takes place without unequivocal consent of the recipient.’
Sexual harassment may involve “quid pro quo” harassment in which it is a stated or implied that an employment decision or continued employment depends on whether the employee submits to certain sexual conduct.
Sexual harassment may also involve a “hostile environment”. This type of harassment can take any form including touching and groping. People can also be harassed through verbal means such as inappropriate jokes or comments in the workplace. Sexual gestures, inappropriate personal gifts or even displays of sexual imagery from a coworker can also be considered sexual harassment.
When a sexual assault occurs in the workplace, it is considered a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII.
Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace
The best way that companies can prevent sexual harassment is by educating their employees. A surprisingly large number of people are harassed sexually without even realizing it. In some cases, the employee may not understand what is considered unprofessional or inappropriate. Companies should train their employees to not only understand what type of behavior is considered sexual harassment, but also to recognize incidents of sexual harassment when they happen to other employees and report those incidents to management.
What to do if a coworker has sexually harassed you
- Be safe: The first and most important thing to do if you have been sexually harassed is ensure your own safety. This may mean getting to a safe location as soon as possible. In many cases, this is with a person you trust.
- Tell someone: You should then ensure that you inform the right people about the harassment. Most businesses will have a system through which these complaints can be channeled. This may be the human resources department or your supervisor. Be sure that it is documented as accurately as possible. Include information such as the date, time and location of the incident.
- Expect retaliation: It is not uncommon for complaints of sexual harassment to be met with retaliation. This may include demotions, salary cuts or even dismissal. The best way to prepare for retaliation is by speaking to an experienced employment law attorney. They will help you take legal action if need arises.
Never remain silent if you feel that you have been sexually harassed by a coworker. Speak out to ensure that it never happens again, and that the responsible party is brought to justice.