Although Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act made gender discrimination in the workplace illegal as of 1964, sexual harassment still unfortunately occurs with alarming regularity. Sexual harassment in the workplace is discrimination and cannot be tolerated. Inappropriate interactions become harassment under the law when their frequency and severity create a hostile, offensive working environment such as when it becomes difficult to complete your job tasks due to the discrimination, when your employer passes you over for a promotion or if your employer fires you for refusing sexual advances.
Men and women who are victims may not know how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace, instead passively accepting their situation, dreading going into work or even quitting to escape further abuse. Harassers can take many forms, including supervisors, peers or even customers. Victims have rights, they can complain and they deserve justice.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment at work, you are certainly not alone. In 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tracked 11,364 sexual harassment complaints. While you may be tempted to quit to avoid the situation altogether, leaving without giving your employer the chance to make things right perpetuates the situation for other employees and could nullify any claims against your employer you may wish to file in the future. Your employer may be eager to step in and resolve the issue if they are made aware they have a problem with sexual harassment.
If you don’t know how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace, read your company’s policies, consult with your Human Resources representative and file a formal, written complaint. Include specific details, such as dates and times, and directly quote, whenever possible, what your harasser said and who witnessed each interaction. After receiving your complaint, your employer should conduct a thorough investigation including interviewing witnesses, yourself and the harasser. Disciplinary actions for your harasser may include education, sanction, retraining, or transferring or termination of your harasser.
If you have followed your company’s policies but sexual harassment continues, consult an attorney. Pursuing a legal case holds your employer accountable, protects other employees and may protect your job. It may also entitle you to obtain monetary compensation for the damages that you have suffered. Lawyers who focus on handling sexula harassment cases can represent and advocate for you, while protecting you from retaliation and job loss. Relying on an experienced attorney can give you peace of mind, confidence and support during this time of stress.