Sexual harassment is a term used since the 1970’s to define unwelcome sexual advances. It can include requests for sexual favors, conduct of a sexual nature, acceptance or rejection of these advances, and rewards or punishments in return for sexual favors. Employers or other people in positions of power can use their authority to exploit their subordinates. This does not mean that employers are the only ones to exploit others sexually; a supervisor, co-worker, employee, client, or even someone not affiliated with the same work field can all potentially be the culprit of sexual harassment.
Harassment of any kind is unlawful. Sexual harassment is determined by harassment because of one’s sex. The law does not prohibit teasing or horseplay, but when it is frequent or severe it is prohibited by the law. The fact that bantering and friendly joking can escalate to the level of sexual harassment makes it difficult for people to know when they have been a victim. If the conduct is relentless, humiliating, or intimidating and a reasonable person would find the behavior offensive, hostile, or abusive, then it can be considered sexual harassment and is against the law.
Seeking a good sexual harassment lawyer to represent you during this time will help to protect your rights and recover damages if applicable. A lawyer can also help you weed through the terms and definitions that can cause confusion.
If you feel as though you have been the victim of sexual harassment and need immediate help, please contact me.
What conduct can be considered sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment can take many different forms, but the most commonly reported are verbal, nonverbal, physical, and visual. Identifying some of these behaviors can help determine whether or not you are a victim or sexual harassment.
Verbal harassment. The use of labels or nicknames, derogatory comments, sexual jokes, comments about a person’s body or clothing, sexual innuendos, starting rumors about a person, or threatening a person.
Nonverbal harassment. Derogatory gestures and staring, sexual gestures or facial expressions, and even just overtly staring can be constituted as sexual harassment.
Physical harassment. Kissing, hugging, touching, groping, assault, hindering movement for the other person, or any physical interference with normal work or movement.
Visual harassment. Can include posters, drawings, cartoons, etc. with a sexual connotation, viewing inappropriate sexual material in public, or simulating sexual acts.
Legal Definitions of Sexual Harassment
There are two legal definitions defining sexual harassment law.
Hostile Work Environment. To define sexual harassment legally, the environment in question must be one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive. The courts will look at the severity and the frequency of the events. The situations have to be continuous and extensive. The plaintiff, or the party bringing the complaint, in a hostile work environment case must show that their work environment was infiltrated with intimidation, ridicule, or insults that differed from the general work environment.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment. This is the harassment of “you do something for me, I’ll do something for you.” If a person in a position of power withholds work opportunities based on sexual conduct or makes a job benefit on the basis of a sexual advance, that is considered Quid Pro Quo harassment.
Five steps to take if you feel that you are the victim of sexual harassment
Taking action and properly documenting the incidents you have with sexual harassment can have a big difference on your case and help your lawyer know whether you have a case at all.
Tell the harasser to stop. Do not let your desire to fit in deter you from expressing discomfort about a situation. Make it clear that the behavior is unwelcome. This statement of disapproval of the behavior will make it much easier to prove your case in court.
Document the harassment. Proving that you were, in fact, harassed can be difficult to prove. Documentation always helps. Try to keep a diary or journal of the events and attempt to contact Human Resources.
Report the harassment early. Reporting sexual harassment to Human Resources can help immensely. If no reports are sent, they have no chance of resolving the problem.
Insist on remedial action. Once H.R. is informed of the sexual harassment incidents, thy have an obligation to remedy the situation. It is their duty to make the victim feel comfortable and take appropriate action.
Seek a counselor early. Seeking a Mental Health Counselor can not only play a big role in winning your case, but also can help you stand up for yourself on your own.
Sexual harassment is not an easy thing to deal with and can feel degrading and frustrating. Seeking a good sexual harassment lawyer can help alleviate some of those feelings, so please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can also learn more about sexual harassment in “Straightalk Law The Truth About Workplace Sexual Harassment” by Darryl Parker. If you need help immediately, please contact me.