Sexual harassment is a real concern within the workplace. Unfortunately, victims of sexual harassment often have trouble speaking out. Whether they’re afraid to lose their job, hurt their career, or of their accuser, the fear is real. But what can you do if you are a victim of sexual harassment? The good news is you do have legal protection. Here’s what you need to know about taking legal action for sexual harassment.
The Definition of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment happens to both men and women and reports indicate that 1 in 4 Americans has experienced sexual harassment. The legal definition of sexual harassment is any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.” Keep in mind, sexual harassment is illegal and has been since 1964. You are also protected from retaliation under the law.
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Not every offensive comment will qualify as sexual harassment as the law defines it. If you’re confronted with conduct that you think might be sexual harassment, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible in order to figure out whether the conduct fits the legal definition or harassment.
Are You Being Sexually Harassed?
Not sure if what you’re experiencing is sexual harassment? Then consider these common signs of sexual harassment.
-Lack of Respect for the Word “Stop”
If you have asked a co-worker to stop doing something that makes you uncomfortable and they ignore your requests, that’s harassment.
Harassment comes in many forms, even jokes. If someone makes a joke that makes you uncomfortable, that’s harassment. As is sexual compliments, sex talk, or any other behavior that causes you to feel uneasy.
Advances from a co-worker that are unwanted and unappreciated are a clear indication of harassment. Asking about your sexual preferences, inviting you to meet in a private place outside of work, or touching you inappropriately are all considered harassment.
When to Talk to a Lawyer
Speaking to a third-party like a lawyer can evaluate your claims to see if you have any legal standing. Your lawyer will give you advice on how to properly log and report the sexual harassment. They can provide the knowledge and strategy you need to make a good case against the person harassing you.
Even if you are subjected to harassment, you may need to take certain steps to protect your rights. For example, your employer’s policy (and even the law) may require you to report possible sexual harassment to human resources or managerial employees in order to hold the employer responsible for the harassment. (Note that if the harasser is a manager, the law doesn’t require that you report the harassment in order to hold the employer responsible for it.) An experienced employment lawyer will help you figure out the right HR or other employee to whom you should report possible harassment. A lawyer can also work with you to outline your description of the harassing conduct. That way, if you get nervous when you speak with HR or a manager about the conduct (which is only natural), you’ll have the confidence to provide all of the relevant information clearly and calmly.
In addition to helping you prepare to report harassment, an employment lawyer will advise you as to other steps to take to protect yourself. These steps may include:
- Documenting the harassment and all discussions about it with your employer
- Preparing you to deal with the harasser if the harassment continues
- Advising you about how to report future harassment to your employer, and
- Monitoring your employer’s response to your complaint to make sure your employer does not retaliate against you.
When you have to deal with harassment at work, it can be difficult to think clearly about how to respond. An employee subjected to sexual harassment may be too emotionally drained and confused to have the perspective on his or her circumstances needed to formulate a strong response. An employment lawyer can be a great resource to draw on so that you can decide what steps to take.
Don’t be afraid to speak out. Talk to a lawyer soon to protect yourself in the future.