Sexual Harassment: It’s possibly the most serious issue in the workplace. When sexual harassment occurs it disrupts the workplace, is costly in terms of morale/productivity, and leaves emotional (or sometimes physical) scars that can ruin careers. For employees, it is extremely important to recognize when sexual harassment is happening, and to know what can be done about it.
Although it may seem counter intuitive, it is not always obvious that sexual harassment is occurring. Most employees can recognize obvious sexual harassment. An employee that is being touched inappropriately or groped has a strong argument for being sexually harassed. The same goes when an employee’s co-worker consistently uses sexually suggestive language, whistles or makes other lewd noises, gives inappropriate gifts, tells jokes of a sexual nature or attempts to show that employee pornographic material. Often, the individual engaging in such behavior will laugh it off as a joke, or suggest that everyone is just part of the same group of friends and no one should take such action or language seriously. The fact is that sexual conduct, language, or insinuations are never appropriate in a workplace and most companies have written policies making that clear.
Sexual harassment does not stop at explicit words and actions, though. Often, employees are in an atmosphere of sexual harassment and don’t recognize it. Sexual harassment can be against both women and men, and some policies and even court decisions are starting to use the term “gender harassment” to cover inappropriate language or actions based on sexual orientation. Sexual harassment based on one employee’s sexual attraction to another is what most people think of, but often one employee may not like another because they are female or male, or because they are gay, lesbian or transgender. In those instances, sexual harassment may be harder to recognize.
In those cases, sexual harassment could take the form of demeaning language or a situation where an employee finds themselves constantly berated. They might be excluded from groups or major company initiatives and/or given fewer assignments. In companies where there are multiple offices and locations, an employee may suddenly be relocated, often to an office or territory that is less desirable. Instead of being excluded from good assignments, an employee may be given a very difficult, often impossible assignment. In these cases, sexual harassment is subtle and based on a dislike due to gender, and often designed to get an employee to quit.
What can an employee do if they feel sexually harassed? Experts advise not to quit, but rather fight back. This is not easy, and requires research and perseverance. Begin by finding, reading, and understanding the company policy against sexual harassment. Report any uncomfortable instances immediately in writing. In many cases, it is a subordinate engaging in behavior that can be construed as sexual harassment, so if a company has an HR department, make the complaint to them and not to a direct supervisor. Reporting will often initiate an investigation, and anyone who feels sexually harassed should understand that a company must be an impartial agent, and investigate all accusations, interview all parties and listen to all sides. This is where perseverance comes into play. Continue to report instances and create a paper trail that shows a pattern. Ideally, the situation is resolved and the work environment improves. But in many cases, things don’t turn out that way. Anyone who suspects they are being sexually harassed can and should seek legal advice to protect themselves and their career.
If you are looking for a sexual harassment lawyer to protect your rights contact us for a free case evaluation at (949) 379-6250.