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Sexual Harassment

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination that is based on the sex of a person. While the term “sexual harassment” may imply that the behaviors be sexually explicit in nature, this is untrue. Sexual harassment covers a wide variety of inappropriate behaviors based on the sex of the individual.

While it is true that unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or touching a person in a sexual manner are all examples of sexual harassment, other behaviors, including disparaging comments or jokes can also be considered sexual harassment. 

The standard for sexual harassment is whether the behavior creates a hostile work environment. In order for a workplace to be considered “hostile” the behavior must be offensive and either pervasive or severe. 

Offensive behavior includes any dehumanizing, objectifying, or insensitively rude comments or jokes. If, for example, someone makes an inappropriate joke that puts down women, that may be considered offensive. The general standard for determining whether something is offensive is considering whether a theoretically reasonable person would find the joke offensive if they were a member of the targeted group.

The other question is whether the behavior is either pervasive or severe. Pervasive sexual harassment would include consistent jokes, pranks, comments, or inappropriate requests that are not adequately addressed. By contrast, sexual harassment can also occur if there is a even a single severe incident. A severe incident could include a physical assault or other highly traumatic event that fundamentally affects the victim’s sense of safety and productivity in the workplace. 

Key Takeaways

  • Sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination that is based on the victim’s sex. Sexual harassment does not have to mean sexually explicit behavior, but extends to any behavior that is offensive to a member of a certain sex.
  • Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by a coworker, supervisor, client, or non-employee including members of the same sex.  As long as the behavior based on the individual’s sex is offensive, pervasive, or severe, it is considered sexual harassment.
  • Sexual harassment claims are investigated and pursued by the Department of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  • If you have experienced sexual harassment but have not had your case taken by the EEOC, an experienced Employment Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Sexual Harassment and Employment Law

Sexual harassment falls under the legal definition of discrimination as determined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a form of discrimination, sexual harassment claims are within the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is the most common charge received by the commission. Between the fiscal years 2018 and 2021, the EEOC receives 98,411 total charges of harassment with 27.7% of those claims being about sexual harassment. There is also a significantly higher number of women reporting sexual harassment. In the same three year period, the EEOC found that 78.2% of the sexual harassment charges filed with the commission were filed by women.

Sexual harassment can come from anyone in an organization including:

  • Clients
  • Coworkers
  • Customers
  • Executives
  • Managers
  • Non-employee contractors
  • Supervisors

Sexual harassment can also occur between two people of the same sex. As long as the behavior creates a hostile work environment or leads to unequal employment decisions on the basis of an individual’s sex, it can be considered sexual harassment.

The EEOC also notes that the victim of sexual harassment doesn’t always have to be the person being targeted by the harassment. Anyone who is affected by the offensive conduct can be considered to be a victim of sexual harassment. The EEOC also specifies that there does not need to be any economic injury or loss of employment in order for there to be a sexual harassment allegation. The behavior must simply be unwelcome, offensive, and either pervasive or severe.

When an individual believes that they are being sexually harassed, they should utilize all available grievance or complaint mechanisms available in order to create a trail of evidence that the behavior was unwanted and was not stopped. During an investigation of sexual harassment,  the EEOC will look at the circumstances, nature of the harassment, and context at the time the incidents occurred.

Bottom Line

If you have suffered sexual harassment and your harassment has not been addressed or you have been terminated for speaking up, you may be able to file a lawsuit to remedy the situation. In order to file and prevail in your lawsuit, you will need the help of an Employment Law attorney.

An experienced Employment Law attorney will zealously advocate on your behalf in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney will gather evidence of harassment and demonstrate compellingly how you have been sexually harassed without receiving the remedies required by law.

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