What to Do If Sexually Harassed at Work | Recognition & Addressing

While working silently at your desk, suddenly, you feel the piercing gaze that is making you uncomfortable; this is how sexual harassment begins. Often, the victims choose to be silent to save their jobs, fear social judgment or are unaware of their rights. This silence can encourage crime further, and thus, it is essential to take action against sexual harassment at the earliest. So, if you or your colleagues are among those trying to figure out what to do if sexually harassed at work? Here, we have given you detailed information on sexual harassment and how to address it. 

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is when someone does things of a sexual nature without your consent. This includes unwanted advances, asking for sexual favors, inappropriate touches, and several other things that make you uncomfortable in your workplace. It creates a bad environment and makes you feel embarrassed, scared, or upset.

In the work sphere, one can face harassment from their superiors, co-workers, or any client they are dealing with. However, workplace harassment is often described as –

  • Quid Pro Quo 

A Latin expression meaning “this for that” describes a scenario in which an employer tolerates inappropriate sexual behavior.

  • An example of sexual harassment would be threatening to fire an employee who reports or rejects sexual approaches at work. 
  • Offering a promotion to someone in return for sexual favors is another example.
  • Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment must reach a certain level to be considered unlawful, either being severe, such as physical assault, or pervasive, like a continual stream of comments and offensive visuals.  However, a workplace permitting awful visuals, including photographs or drawings on monitors, can create a hostile working environment according to sexual harassment laws. Sexual harassment encompasses a spectrum of behavior, from the display of suggestive calendar photos to acts of sexual assault by a colleague.

Is sexual harassment a crime?

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

  • Unlawful Conditions:

Conduct is severe or pervasive, creating a hostile or abusive work environment.

  • Exceptions:

Unless extremely serious, petty slights and isolated incidents do not constitute illegal harassment. The conduct must create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Does it only cover “Sexual intent”?

It is not necessary for harassment to have a sexual component or be driven by a sexual desire to be illegal. Statements that degrade another person because of their sex, policies that disadvantage a group because of their sex (intentionally or not), and hostile work environments are all forms of sexual harassment. 

A person experiences this type of animosity if they are persecuted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or the fact that they do not fit stereotypical gender roles. Other sex-based qualities, such as pregnancy or breastfeeding, could also serve as the basis for unlawful harassment. Whether the offender and victim are of the same sex, it may still be considered sexual assault.

Signs of Workplace Sexual Harassment

  • Unwanted requests for sexual favors 
  • Inappropriate comments about someone’s body or appearance
  • Making explicit jokes about sex
  • Sending or sharing sexually suggestive messages
  • Spreading gossip about personal relationships or sexual activities
  • Unwanted or inappropriate physical contact (e.g., unethical hugging, kissing, or touching in general)
  • Staring, leering, or making sexual gestures
  • Impeding someone’s movement
  • Displaying, sending, or sharing explicit images or pornography.

If one comes across these kinds of behavior, it is considered sexual harassment. 

What to do if sexually harassed at work?

Since multiple victims have already come forward and told their stories of sexual harassment, many companies have formed anti-sexual harassment policies to counter such acts and protect the innocents. However, not every company has such policies, so in that case, report to your supervisor or HR department. 

If no action is taken on your complaint, consulting an attorney is the last step you are left with. Accidental Defenders is one such law firm that will fight for you to bring justice, being an employee-oriented firm, they are true to their words. 

What are my rights?

  • Filing a Complaint: 

Victims can file a complaint with the EEOC or the relevant state or local agency. These agencies can investigate the complaint and attempt to resolve the issue through mediation or other means.

  • Lawsuit: 

If the complaint is not resolved through other means, the victim may file a lawsuit against the harasser or their employer. A successful lawsuit can result in financial compensation, such as back pay, lost wages, and emotional distress damages to the criminal.

  • Protection from Retaliation: 

Employees who report sexual harassment or participate in investigations are protected from retaliation. Employers cannot take adverse actions, such as termination, demotion, or harassment, in response to the victim’s asserting their rights.

If you or an acquaintance of yours is facing sexual harassment, consulting expert attorneys is highly recommended. They are aware of all the laws and know the steps that need to be taken to help you get early justice. Our team is dedicated to holding perpetrators accountable and creating workplaces free from harassment. Remember, you have the right to enjoy a discrimination-free workplace!

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