Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very real and unfortunately very common occurrence. It is one of the more pervasive and destructive forms of workplace bullying. It is something that every employer is encouraged to take a stand against and most employers have specific guidelines in place governing such behavior.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Title VII of this Act is the specific law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any business that has 15 or more employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created to enforce Title VII and act on any formal complaints filed in violation of the law.
While it is comforting to know that there are federal guidelines in place regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, many states also have their own laws and most individual employers have their own policies as well. It’s a good thing for all employees to be aware of the specific rules or policies in place should they find themselves facing an instance or instances of sexual harassment so that they know exactly what to do.
The first step in any such case is to be aware of exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. This is generally defined as any kind of unwelcome sexual advances, threats of a sexual nature, explicit sexually related conversation or physical contact that either expressly makes giving in to the behavior a requirement for keeping your job or for receiving any kind of job-related promotion, benefit etc. or that simply creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.
Not all sexual harassment in the workplace involves a quid pro quo scenario, i.e. have sex with me or lose your job. If you are made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in your work environment because of the verbal or physical conduct of a superior or a co-worker that is of a sexual nature, then you have a legitimate complaint. What many don’t realize is that you don’t even have to directly be involved in the behavior in order to file a complaint. Co-workers who are negatively affected by witnessing such behavior are also considered victims.
Another common misconception is that sexual harassment must be directed at someone of the opposite gender. That’s not at all true. Sexual harassment can just as easily be perpetrated by someone of the same gender. It is a pervasive and destructive form of behavior that can cause deep psychological damage to the victims and even to their family members when they bring their workplace issues home with them. This is why it is so important to speak out against harassment.
If you do find yourself the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, be sure to keep a careful record of exactly what happened and when. Then consult your company’s employee handbook to see if there are guidelines for reporting such behavior and be sure to follow them to the letter.
You can also file a complaint directly with the EEOC, who will then be required to investigate the matter. If you do choose to go this route, remember that the EEOC requires that all complaints be filed within 180 days of the incident, so you can’t afford to delay action.
No one should have to suffer this kind of destructive and damaging behavior. Know your rights as an employee and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself should this happen to you. The only way to break the vicious cycle of sexual harassment is by fighting back. The solution begins with you!