Nearly 55 years ago, the U.S. Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law to prevent employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The courts have found this to cover not just discrimination, such as when an employer unduly disciplines or dismisses an employee due to sex or race, but also sexual harassment.
Defining Sexual Harassment Today
The most well-known form of employment discrimination is likely sexual harassment. What is not readily evident is what sexual harassment looks like. The harassment is not just one incident in which a pejorative is tossed around regarding the intimate affairs of an employee, a leering look or an attempt to chat someone up for a dinner date. Rather, sexual harassment involves the employee being subjected to unwelcome advances and conduct that create a hostile place of employment. The sexual misconduct and rebuffed advances result in a workplace that pervasively alters the terms and conditions under which the employee was originally hired.
The courts are consistently struggling to identify what is considered sexual harassment and what is not, and that can discourage people from filing a claim. What is always crystal clear, is that, no matter if you are male or female, if you are subjected to a stream of unwarranted and unwanted advances based on your gender, you file a complaint with your employer, but noting is done, there is likely a strong case of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The individual responsible for the sexual harassment can be an immediate co-worker or supervisor. However, the distinction is vital because the role the harasser plays within the company can determine legal remedies and rights.
Steps to Take When Sexual Harassment Occurs
- If a co-worker is sexually harassing you, there is an obligation to report the incident to a manager or a person in the HR Department. Follow all policies your company has in place regarding reporting sexual harassment. If you do not take action, you will lose all rights to file a claim, no matter how serious the harassment.
- If the harasser is a manager or supervisor, the claim can become somewhat simpler. If the rebuffed sexual overture leads to a demotion or some other verifiable employment action, then it is not always necessary to follow the policies of the employer for reporting sexual harassment.
- If you do follow the policies in place regarding a complaint, and the employer takes no action, then there is an opportunity to file a sexual harassment charge with the EEOC. The agency will investigate the charge, require an employer response and, in certain cases, attempt a mediation. If settlement does not occur in mediation, the EEOC will often provide the employee with a right to sue letter. This letter gives an employee the right to file a federal case and have a jury trial.
Filing a Complaint with the EEOC
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem, and it is necessary to be proactive if you believe you are the victim of it. If you are the victim of sexual harassment, do not choose to hide the reality of the situation and its impact on your life away. Complain to your company and then to the EEOC, but be certain to take action within 180 days of the last act of sexual intimidation or harassment, there is a strict window during which an employee has the right to sue.
For those who fear employer retaliation or further sexual harassment or sexual violence, we can become involved the moment you believe you are being targeted. We can help prevent the matter from careening out of control, and put the employer on notice that there will be consequences for actions taken In retaliation. Our early involvement can even help reach a resolution early, and possibly help the harassed individual keep his or her job.
Learn Your Options Regarding Sexual Harassment
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence, you need to proceed quickly or you may lose the option of filing a claim for the incident. Contact us to schedule a time to discuss your claim, your mental and financial well-being depend on it.