Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It is a type of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is not something any employee should be forced to accept or tolerate, nor is it a “part of the job” or “the price of getting ahead.”
Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment. It occurs any time a person is a victim of unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature. For more information on how sexual harassment is defined by law, visit the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission’s website.
Unfortunately, despite sexual harassment being illegal, there are still thousands or more people every year who face sexual harassment in the workplace. In some cases, the perpetrators don’t know any better and their comments or actions are out of ignorance and not malice. In other cases, the perpetrator is preying on a victim and using harassment as a power play for personal or professional gain.
Understand Your Options for Dealing with Sexual Harassment
If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you have the right to take action. The law protects you against pushback from the perpetrator or from your employer.
However, despite these legal protections, it’s important to consider your options before moving forward. Making accusations of sexual harassment will change your relationship with your employer and you should be prepared for what is to come. Understanding your options is one of the smartest things you can do before taking against to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
Take Precautions If You Believe There’s Danger
First and foremost, consider whether you are in danger. If someone is sexually harassing you and you feel it could escalate to a physical attack, you should take immediate action and contact law enforcement. In most cases, sexual harassment is uncomfortable and needs to be dealt with, but poses no physical harm, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and not dismiss anything that makes you feel threatened.
If you believe you aren’t dealing with any immediate threat of physical danger, you can evaluate your options before moving forward. Review your employee handbook and gather information about your company’s official policy for filing a grievance. If there is a sexual harassment policy in place, follow it, and create a written record of having done so. Following procedure might be enough to put an end to the harassment, but if not, you must still prove you did what was expected of you.
When procedures require you to confront the person victimizing you, make sure you do so in a place where you are safe. You can ask someone to witness your actions or not, but if you choose to speak to the person alone, make sure you plan for the worst case scenario. Confronting the perpetrator might stop the behavior, but there are also times when confrontation will escalate the problem. You need to have a plan to stay safe when you take action.
File an Official Report of Sexual Harassment
If the harassment doesn’t stop after confronting your abuser and/or speaking to your employer, or you wish to file an official complaint so the abuse is on record with a third-party, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Keep in mind you have only 180 days from the date the harassment took place to file a discrimination charge.
From the first incident of abuse, it’s important to keep a written record of everything related to the harassment. In addition to recording your interactions with your abuser, you should also make note of any conversations you have with supervisors, human resources, or third parties. This record could be of great value should you need to recall details or show proof that something occurred.
Finally, it’s wise to contact an attorney with experience dealing with sexual harassment. Filing a report and taking legal action can be intimidating. In some cases, your employer will go to great lengths to discourage you from taking the steps necessary to end the harassment. Having an attorney on your side can provide the support and guidance you need during this stressful time.
To learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace or to discuss the details of your situation with an experienced professional, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.