Sexual harassment in the workplace

What is Sexual Harassment?

  • Sexual Harassment is a type of sexual discrimination defined as any “unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment”
  • There are two types sexual harassment recognized under federal law:
    1. Quid Pro Quo: Employment decisions such as the hiring, firing, and promotion of employees are reliant upon the toleration of sexual harassment or provision of sexual favors
    2. Hostile Work Environment: Employee work environment is made abusive, offensive, intimidating, or hostile based on unwelcome sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with work performance

How Common is Sexual Violence in the Workplace?

  • According to studies of employed women in the US, 38% of employed women experience sexual violence in the workplace. Women make up around 80% of the sexual violence claims, half of which claim to have been harassed by a supervisor or employer.
  • Unfortunately, many sexual harassment cases, especially involving male victims, are left unreported. A troubling 62% of female and 79% of male harassment victims claim to have taken no action following past inappropriate incidents.
  • The following industries are ranked as having the highest sexual harassment incidents:
    1. Business, Trade, Banking, and Finance
    2. Sales and Marketing
    3. Hospitality
    4. Civil Service
    5. Education, Lecturing, and Teaching

Sexual harassment in the workplace

What to do After Experiencing Sexual Harassment

  • Victims of sexual harassment may sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Justice Act of 1964.
  • If  you believe that you are a victim of sexual harassment, pursue the following steps:
    1. Document the sexually discriminatory advances, comments, or policies.
      • Include in these documents the date, time, location, and witnesses.
      • Take photographs or copies of these documents and keep them in a safe place.
      • Be as specific and organized as possible with your documentation. Clear evidence is crucial to your case.
    2. Report the harassment at work.
      • A law suit is only permissible if the victim first attempts to report the sexual harassment at his/her place of employment. Follow the necessary company sexual harassment policies and contact the correct people regarding your claims.
      • If possible, submit a written report to provide evidence of the conversation and complaint. The company is liable if it chooses not to act and fails to prevent repeated offenses.
      • Make honest, direct, and truthful statements. Be serious and straightforward.
      • Do not respond to the harasser’s accusations or excuses. Remain confident in your testimony. The best way of reinforcing your self-confidence is to make strong statements while maintaining self-respecting body language. Avoid timid and submissive body language.
    3. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
      • In order to pursue further legal avenues, you must submit a claim to EEOC within 180 days of the incident.
      • You may choose to obtain an attorney and use other legal resources, but a complaint must be submitted with EEOC first.
      • Confidentiality guaranteed, if requested.
    4. Follow up with an attorney or legal resource center.
      • In order to obtain the right to sue, a claim must first be made through EEOC. If the investigation is unsuccessful or takes too long, you may seek additional legal aid.
      • Consider the following legal options with your attorney

 

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Hiring an attorney for sexual harassment

Legal Options to Discuss with an Attorney

  • When consulting with your attorney, consider the following legal avenues:
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
    • The EEOC conducts an investigation of the company/organization to determine whether or not the harassment occurred, whether the company may be found guilty in court, and whether other employees have been victimized or been effected.
    • You do not need an attorney to file a complaint, but attorney referrals can be obtained via local or national women’s organizations, unions, specialized employee interests groups, law schools, legal aid community services, state Fair Employment Practice (FEP) agencies, or through state EEOC offices.
    • Confidentiality guaranteed, if requested.
    • The process is lengthy (may take over a year). Many cases are automatically referred to local/FEP agencies.
  • Fair Employment Practice (FEP)
    • Like the EEOC, the FEP conducts an investigative process. These processes vary, depending on state policies.
    • A claim must be submitted within 6 months to 1 year of the incident.
    • Many states have weak FEP laws, providing little to no legal remedies.
    • No guarantee of confidentiality.
  • Common Law Tort Suit
    • Filing a common law tort suit allows for victims to receive money for…
      • Compensatory Damages (personal injury, emotional pain and suffering, lost wages, health care expenses, etc.)
      • Punitive Damages (money awarded to victim to punish employer)
    • No guarantee of confidentiality nor protection of victim from company retaliation.
  • Dual Filing
    • Filing your case with more than one agency can be helpful when the two agencies collaborate or share information.
    • If a case is submitted to both EEOC and a state/local agency, the case is likely to be referred to the state/local agency.
  • Criminal Remedies:
    • If the sexual harassment incident is of criminal status (e.g., sexual assault/ rape) report the incident to the police.
  • Possible legal remedies include:
    • Reinstatement of position or promotion
    • Compensatory Damages
    • Punitive Damages
    • Injunctive relief