Sexual harassment is a prohibited type of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although decades have passed since these laws were passed, the reality is that both sex discrimination and harassment remain an ugly and unwelcome part within some present-day work environments. According to statistics maintained by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, sexual harassment claims filed with the agency have been on a general downward trend over the past decade. Still, nearly 12,000 sexual harassment charges were filed in 2010, and harassment on the job remains a major concern for employers across the country.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms, but regardless of the form it takes, is a stressful and traumatizing experience for an individual and can be a severe detriment to an employee's work life. Sexual harassment is not always blatant or obvious, but can sometimes be subtle or build up over time as a pattern of conduct or comments.
Generally, offensive sexual language, unwanted sexual approaches, plus other physical and verbal actions of a sexual nature may all constitute sexual harassment under certain circumstances. Specifically, if accepting or rejecting such behavior has a positive or a negative effect on the victim's employment, or if the offensive behavior creates what is known as a "hostile work environment", a sexual harassment claim may be viable.
Also, here's a few more key things to know about sexual harassment, harassers, and victims:
When faced with harassment of any sort in the workplace, a good place to start is often at the source. Inform the harassing individual in a polite, but clear, fashion that their offending conduct is unwelcome and should stop immediately. This alone can sometimes be enough to put a quick stop to workplace harassment. Many harassers may simply not recognize that their conduct is both offensive and unwelcome, and being informed of that fact can put an end to the behavior.
Unfortunately, however, there are times where just telling someone to stop unwelcome harassment will not do the trick, or doing so may be particularly difficult when the offender is an individual such as a direct supervisor. Many companies or workplaces have a reporting process or system set up to to address these types of situations and to make it easier to report harassment.
If no such grievance or reporting system exists, other options are to contact the HR department or an HR representative, the harasser's supervisor or superior, and last, but not least, look into reporting and filing a charge on the matter with the EEOC or local/state agency.
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.