Sexual harassment is outlawed in every state and by the federal government. But it still happens many times and many ways in even the best of workplaces. Sexual harassment could be overt and obvious to others. Or it could be subtle and far less obvious. No matter how it occurs, it always is illegal in the workplace.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says sexual harassment occurs whenever a co-worker, supervisor, or employer makes unwelcome sexual advances or requests sexual favors. Any conduct that implies a reward for sexual favors qualifies as sexual harassment.
The EEOC says Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964 outlaws sex discrimination. It defines sexual harassment as:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requesting sexual favors
- Verbal conduct of a sexual nature
- Physical conduct of a sexual nature
Illegal sexual conduct often affects a worker’s job or interferes with the worker’s ability to do the job. It also creates a hostile work environment in which the targeted worker and others feel intimidated and offended.
Sexual harassment in the workplace does not have to be caused by a manager or co-8worker seeking sexual favors. It could come from a vendor, contractor, or other non-employee who has access to the workplace. Workplace sexual harassment could affect a male or a female worker and happens in a variety of ways. The harasser could be someone of the other sex or the same sex.
Signs of Quid Pro Quo and Pervasive Sexual Harassment
Workplace sexual harassment generally falls under two types: quid pro quo and pervasive. Quid pro quo is a Latin term that means “this for that.” It often occurs in the workplace when a manager or other person in a position of power over the victim demands sexual favors for better work conditions.
The improved work conditions could include better hours, better pay, or maybe a promotion. As long as the manager or employer is offering a perceived benefit in exchange for sexual favors, a quid pro quo sexual harassment has occurred.
You do not have to be an employee to be a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment. A prospective employee could be offered a job in exchange for sexual favors. The infamous Hollywood casting couch is a prime example of quid pro quo sexual harassment that happens prior to employment. It also could continue during the employment.
The other type of sexual harassment is pervasive sexual harassment. It happens when an employer or co-worker generally engages in offensive behavior of a sexual nature. Offensive jokes, comments about your body, asking about your sex life, and similar behaviors are examples of sexual harassment. When they occur repeatedly, pervasive sexual harassment occurs even when there is no outright request for sexual favors.
Pervasive sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. Even if the harasser is not outright asking for sexual favors, some subtle and not-so-subtle activities could create a hostile work environment. Whenever the victim feels intimidated or threatened while at work, a hostile work environment exists.
Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Could Trigger Harassment
The EEOC also says any kind of harassment due to a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity qualifies as sexual harassment. If you are gay and your employer or manager is biased or prejudiced against gay people, sexual harassment might occur that is not of an outright sexual nature.
If your work assignments are affected by your sexual orientation or gender identity, that would be sexual harassment. So would a manager or co-worker who says offensive jokes or makes hostile comments about gays or transgender people.
Although there is no request for sexual favors, treating someone differently because of sexual orientation or gender identity creates a hostile work environment. The EEOC could investigate complaints based on the treatment received because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Could Occur Online
Sexual harassment does not have to come from someone within the workplace. It could come from a vendor, contractor, or another non-employee. If also could occur online.
A recent Pew Center study gauges the amount of harassment that occurs online, which respondents indicate is significant. They study addresses all types of online harassment and shows women are much more likely than men to experience and report online sexual harassment.
The Pew Center study shows 16 percent of women respondents said they suffered sexual harassment online versus five percent of men. Another 13 percent of women also said they were stalked online against only nine percent of men reporting online stalking.
Age seems to be a significant factor in online sexual harassment, with younger women generally experiencing it more often than older women. A third of women under age 35 said they were sexually harassed online, whereas only 11 percent of men in the same age range reported online sexual harassment.
Retaliation Qualifies as Sexual Harassment
If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment and report it to a supervisor, your employer should take the complaint seriously, investigate the matter, and correct the situation. However, some employers or their representatives choose to retaliate if a worker files a sexual harassment complaint.
Retaliation could include reducing your work hours, changing your job assignments, or firing you. If that were to occur, you could file a complaint with the EEOC. You also could file a federal lawsuit.
If you could prove that your sexual orientation or gender identity caused workplace harassment, you would have a very strong case. If you were fired or otherwise suffered economic damages, you might be able to recoup those losses plus punitive damages.
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Outlaws Sexual Harassment
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) provides sexual harassment victims with another level of protection. It specifically addresses workplace sexual harassment and enables victims to sue for damages. The law against discrimination also addresses harassment due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
If you are victim of workplace sexual harassment, the law would allow you to file a state-level lawsuit. That would be in addition to any federal lawsuit that you might have based on violations of federal laws against sexual harassment. With federal and state laws protecting victims of workplace sexual harassment, you have very potent options for holding your current or former employer liable and possibly recoup economic damages.
How Victims Could Handle Workplace Sexual Harassment
If you have good reason to believe you are targeted with workplace sexual harassment, the EEOC says you should confront the person or people doing it. The confrontation should be peaceful and simply inform the harassers that their conduct is unwelcome.
If you directly address the harassers and the unlawful sexual harassment continues, you should notify your supervisor. If the harasser is one or more co-workers, the supervisor should have the power to put an end to it. If a supervisor is the source of the harassment, you should be able to go over that person’s head and notify a higher-up or the employer.
If you take reasonable steps to address workplace sexual harassment and the matter continues, you could file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC can investigate complaints of workplace sexual harassment. You also could file a federal or state lawsuit to seek punitive damages. However, that could require the help of experienced sexual harassment lawyers.
Cherry Hill Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Help to Fight Workplace Wrongdoings
If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, the experienced Cherry Hill sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., can help. No one should be forced to tolerate this behavior in the workplace. We will explain a worker’s rights when it comes to sexual harassment, and we will investigate every case thoroughly to help victims recover from what was a terrible ordeal. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.