What is sexual harassment?
Both federal and state law describe sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affects a person’s employment, interferes with their work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment”.
So if this description of workplace sexual harassment fits something that is happening to you, what should you do?
Steps to Take When a Coworker Sexually Harasses You
Sexual harassment has the potential to cause all kinds of damage to one’s life, emotionally, financially, and physically. It’s a difficult time for any person and those they love to get through but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Sexual harassment affects an overwhelming amount of people in the workplace and does not discriminate between gender, age, position, or sexuality. If someone does experience sexual harassment then there a few things that they can do to minimize the the damage done to them and work towards holding the party or parties that harassed them responsible.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Before we get into what you can do if you have been sexually harassed, let’s look at what exactly sexual harassment is defined as. According to the United States Department of Justice sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” When sexual assault occurs in the workplace, it is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion. If someone submits a complaint over sexual harassment they experienced and there is retaliation against them, then that is also considered illegal.
Sexual harassment takes on more forms than the typical touching and groping usually associated with it. Sexual harassment can be done through verbal means where someone constantly asks a coworker out, makes inappropriate sexual remarks or jokes, or makes inquiries into a coworkers sexual life to name a few examples. It can be nonverbal as well when a coworker makes sexual gestures, gives inappropriate personal gifts, or displays inappropriate sexual imagery.
Who is Involved in Sexual Harassment?
Most cases of sexual harassment will be between a man and a woman where a man will make unwelcome sexual advances or may make a woman uncomfortable with physical contact. While this is a very common scenario, it is not the only one to be worried about. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone regardless of gender, sexuality, or position in a company.
What Can be Done to Prevent Sexual Harassment
The best thing to do to stop sexual harassment is education. A surprising amount of cases of sexual harassment consist of the person doing the harassing not even realizing that they were making a coworker uncomfortable or that what they were doing was considered inappropriate and unprofessional.
Many companies have invested in training their employees in not just understanding what constitutes sexual harassment but also what to do if they see it happening to another employee so that their workplace is free of any discomfort causing behavior. In addition to this, educating employees that there are severe consequences like discharge or demotion for sexual harassment is also a very good deterrent.
What Should You do if You Have Been Sexually Harassed?
First and foremost, let the person sexually harassing you know that they are being unprofessional and inappropriate and that there can and will be consequences. If the harassment was of a more physical nature then your priority should be your safety. Get to a safe location as soon as possible; preferably in the company of someone trustworthy that can help you.
Reporting that you have been sexually harassed.
Once you are sure that you are in a safe space, work towards informing the right people that you were sexually harassed at work. If you have one, consult your employee handbook or website. If the company you work for has a sexual harassment policy, start the process that it outlines. Create a detailed account, in writing, of what happened to you and be specific. Be sure to note the time and place of each incident of sexual harassment, what was said and done to you, and if there were any witnesses. Be as detailed as possible.
If your employer doesn’t have an HR department or a system in place then inform your supervisor. If your supervisor is the one responsible for the harassment then go above their head and seek their superior.
Unfortunately, vague sexual harassment complaints don’t get taken as seriously. So make sure you are meticulous in your recollection and that you document as many details and pieces of evidence as possible. No attorney on the planet is going to be concerned that the evidence you bring them is too organized and detailed. If there isn’t enough documentation, proving your workplace sexual harassment claim could be difficult.
When someone retaliates against your sexual harassment complaint.
It is perfectly natural for someone to fear retaliation against them for filing a complaint against someone’s sexual harassment. There are a lot of horror stories of sexual harassment complaints leading to wage reductions, demotions, or even discontinued employment.
Remember that Equal Employment Opportunity laws make it illegal for someone to retaliate against you if you have submitted a sexual harassment complaint. If you have been fired or have had actions taken against you because you reported an instance of sexual harassment then you may want to consult with an attorney about taking legal action.
When a sexual harassment complaint has no effect.
Systems sometimes fail us and don’t deliver on their promises of investigations. If you have filed a complaint about an instance of sexual harassment from a coworker and nothing came of it then the best thing to do is go back to human resources or whoever you reported the incident to last time and inform them that there was another incident and that your work environment has become sexually hostile and uncomfortable.
Sometimes, an investigation into a case of sexual harassment may take some time and was not completed before a repeat of sexual harassment. In other cases, the investigation was conclusive and and the coworker was punished but not enough to deter them from harassing further.
In a case where no investigation took place or no punitive measures were taken then you may want to consult with an attorney about taking legal action against the company. Failing to protect employees through the proper procedure of investigation and if need be, punishment for sexual harassment is considered negligent and your employer may be liable for any damages caused by the harassment.
Seek an Experienced Florida Sexual Harassment Attorney
If you or a loved one have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, do not hesitate to contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA about receiving a free consultation regarding your sexual harassment claim. Our skilled lawyers have the expertise you will need to secure the settlement you deserve. You can contact us by calling 727-451-6900 or by filling out our online contact form.