Sexual harassment in the workplace has become part of main stream media, and for good reason. According to a 2017 CNBC survey, 19% of American adults have said they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. For men, this number was 10%, and for women, the number was 27%. These statistics likely don’t capture the whole picture, though, with most victims not reporting incidents of sexual harassment.
Employment agencies, labor organizations, the federal government and any employer in the United States that has 15 or more employees are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII ensures no individual is subject to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . [that] creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Specifically, Title VII recognizes two types of sexual harassment:
- Quid Pro Quo Harassment; and
- Hostile Work Environment.
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when the harassment is in light of some kind of employment decision – a promotion, for example – or is performed by someone higher in authority. The harassment is done as a condition of getting the new assignment or keeping the job. A claim for hostile work environment harassment is based on unwelcome, sexual conduct that is so severe or frequent that it creates an abusive work environment.
A successful claim for either requires the satisfaction of a subjective and an objective standard. A subjective standard requires that the victim actually believes the conduct was offensive or abusive, and an objective standard requires that a reasonable person in the victim’s position would also believe the conduct was offensive or abusive. The subjective standard ensures that there was harm done, and the objective standard protects ensures that the harm was not due to an especially sensitive plaintiff.
If you find yourself being sexually harassed at work, ensure that you take these steps in the event you want to file a claim:
- Request a Copy of Your Personnel File.
Make sure you keep a record of your personnel file. This ensures that there is a record of your performance before you begin any complaints. In the case of any employer retaliation, you have an account of your good work performance.
- Follow Your Employers Procedures for Sexual Harassment.
You should consult your employee handbook and determine the procedure your employer has in place for these instances. If there is a chain of command to escalate the issue, make sure you follow it. Talk to Human Resources, or whoever is in charge of personnel.
- Keep a Written Account.
Write down every incident and step you take. Write down the time, place, and details of the initial sexual harassment, and then write down every step you take, in equal detail, to remediate the situation. Document when you talked to Human Resources or reported the event. And tell a trusted co-worker, by email or text message.
It is also important to know that employer retaliation is illegal. An employer cannot fire an employee because he or she filed a suit. If you find yourself in any of these situations, be sure to speak with a legal professional about your rights as soon as possible.