What Qualifies as Sexual Harassment in the Modern Workplace?

by JRO on August 22, 2013

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(US law) Dealing with a sexual harassment case can be incredibly difficult. Your reputation is at stake, especially if you are filing a suit against your employer or associates. Some people often think the person being harassed is trying to embarrass others, and these cases often bring a lot of criticism. It is important to protect yourself against sexual harassment and take legal action against anyone that is violating your rights.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal and physical harassment, and harassment due to gender.” It is unlawful for a person to be sexually harassed by anyone in the workplace and within other organizations. While the law doesn’t have rules against general teasing or offhand comments, it will go after people that are violating the law if incidents are frequent or severe. Individuals involved in a workplace case include co-workers, supervisors, indirect supervisors, customers, and clients.

Stopping Harassment

The initial step to take is to confront the person doing the harassing. Tell them to stop. If they fail to stop, or you feel things are getting worse, speak to your supervisor. If the supervisor is involved in harassment, go to a different supervisor or another department head. Most companies have a policy on how to file a sexual harassment complaint within the company. Speak to an HR representative if you are unclear on the policy. You need to file a complaint within the company before moving to higher powers. Companies need to be given the chance to stop the harassment problems before it moves to the courts. Always document your claims as you will need them in the event that you must file a lawsuit. There are a number of things you can use to help your case such as videotaping the person when they are coming to your workstation and harassing you. Another thing you can do is to keep all evidence of text messaging or emails from the harasser. Save all offensive letters, pictures, and other evidence to back your claims. Record the dates of harassment, and find another person in the company who will support your statement, or who views the harassment in action. Keep a journal that documents the incidents when they occur. Obtain copies of performance evaluations and other personnel documents that could affect your case.

Complain to Government Agencies

Every company has a clearly defined sexual harassment policy under state and federal law. It is important that each employee read and understand their rights pertaining to sexual harassment. If you feel that your employer is not responding to the complaint, you can then file with the Office of Civil Rights. They are the main point of contact and will investigate your claim. You can file a claim through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before you seek the assistance of a lawyer. You must file with them before you are able to seek out a federal lawsuit. In some situations the EEOC will actually file a lawsuit on your behalf. This occurs if the same employer is involved in multiple harassment complaints. The EEOC may provide you with a document that will explain what your legal rights are and inform you of your right to sue the employer.


Troy Nethercutt is a freelance writer who concentrates on legal topics such as Employment Law, Business Disputes, Mergers & Acquisitions, Banking Law and other areas as well.

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