It has been nearly 5 years since the #MeToo movement took on wide momentum, heightening public awareness and sensitivity to issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. Still, sexual harassment persists at work. In 2022 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 11,090 charges claiming sexual harassment, and recent statistics suggest that approximately 35% of women and 15% of men experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Everyone has the right to work in a safe and comfortable work environment; there is much work to be done in the fight to combat workplace sexual harassment. In order to limit sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand what constitutes sexual harassment, what the legal protections against sexual harassment are, and what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing workplace harassment. Our friends at Avloni Law offer a deep dive into these topics below.
Understanding Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Both federal and state employment laws prohibit workplace sexual harassment. There are two main forms of prohibited sexual harassment at work: hostile work environment harassment, and quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile work environment harassment refers to sexual harassment that is severe or pervasive, so as to create a hostile workplace and interfere with an employee’s work. Harassment is considered severe if it is egregious to the point that one occurrence of the harassing behavior makes the environment hostile. Harassment is considered pervasive if it occurs repeatedly, so as to create a hostile workplace environment. Harassing conduct may include unwanted sexual advances, sexual comments, lewd and offensive comments, sexual assault, physical conduct of a sexual nature, innuendos.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment occurs when participation in a sexual behavior is represented as a condition of employment. For example, a supervisor suggesting that you may receive a promotion if you go on a date with them, or a manager telling you that they will hire you in exchange for a sexual favor, are both considered illegal quid pro quo harassment. One event of explicit or implied quid pro quo harassment is unlawful.
Anyone, regardless of sex or gender, can be the victim of unwanted harassment, and anyone, regardless of sex or gender, can perpetrate sexual harassment. Harassment can be verbal, written in the form of emails or text messages, physical, or through a third party, and can occur at work or outside of work. In a remote office space, the legal standard for proving sexual harassment remains the same; sexual harassment in a virtual office space.
Legal Protections and the Role of a Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Many people who experience sexual harassment are afraid to speak up due to concerns that they will face backlash, ostracism, and, or retaliation. Coming forward takes courage; it is important to be aware that federal and state law protects employees who report sexual harassment at work. If an employee makes a complaint of sexual harassment to their employer, resists sexual harassment in the workplace, or participates as a witness in a sexual harassment complaint, or files a sexual harassment claim, the employer may not treat the employee unfavorable as a result.
If you have experienced hostile work environment sexual harassment or quid pro quo sexual harassment at work, you may be entitled to compensation, including emotional distress and punitive damages. Take the following steps to support your case:
Save evidence. Save any text messages, emails, notes, or other communications that relate to the harassment. Record all related events or interactions in writing, put together a timeline of the harassment including dates, times, and locations.
Report the discrimination. If you feel safe, report the discrimination directly to your employer. You may report the harassment to a supervisor, human resources, or another trusted source. Save a copy of your report in writing; if you report the harassment in a verbal conversation, consider sending a follow-up email or message. You may file a sexual harassment complaint with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the harassment, or with your state agency.
Get support. Workplace harassment is difficult handle alone, both emotionally and logistically. Luckily, there are people to help. Reach out to an employment attorney for a consultation. Whether you are currently experiencing harassment, have reported harassment to your employer, filed a charge of harassment with the EEOC or DFEH, an attorney will be able to help you navigate this process and advocate for you. Additionally, you may want to reach out to a therapist who can support you as you process your experiences.