It’s an employer’s responsibility to promote a workplace where employees feel safe and protected as they try to make a living. However, some situations are out of management’s control.
For instance, you might have coworkers that exhibit sexually inappropriate behavior even through seemingly “harmless” jokes when management isn’t looking. Another example would be when a colleague, especially when he/she is in a position of authority, makes offensive sexual advances, notably to someone who ranks lower than him/her in the organizational hierarchy.
The rise of the #MeToo movement brought forth awareness of sexual harassment, encouraging victims to come forward and speak out about their experiences to encourage positive changes in the workplace. Before we delve into some interesting and eye-opening data, let’s first define workplace sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment in the workplace?
Workplace sexual harassment occurs either instantly or slowly over a period of time, and it can happen even before the victim realizes it has happened or is happening. The offense may occur at a workplace party, in an elevator, over lunch, or when working.
Workplace harassment is any unwelcome or unwanted verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature that significantly impacts the victim’s employment and quality of life. It can be sexual favors, advances, comments, teasing, innuendos, completed or attempted nonconsensual sex act, abusive sexual contact, threats of sexual violence, or uncomfortable lewd sexual jokes.
Any sexual act or behavior in the workplace done against an individual’s will—when they did not or cannot consent—is qualified as workplace sexual harassment.
Two Types of Sexual Harassment Claims
There are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace. The victim or target has the right to sue for damages or losses.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning “something for something.” This occurs when an employee’s ability to get hired, promoted, or keep their job depends on whether they accept the sexual advances or behavior of a colleague with a higher authority.
For instance, an employee is being asked out on a date by a supervisor, and told the employee that they will vouch for the promotion or “help” if the employee agrees. Similarly, if an employee is told that they’re going to be fired or demoted if they don’t accept the invitation, this can be classified as quid pro quo.
Note that even if the employee agrees, they can still file a complaint because of the power dynamics between the employee and employer, which can be the basis for complaint.
Hostile work environment
This type of harassment happens when the victim’s colleagues or superiors make sexual remarks or comments that make the workplace less safe, intimidating, and hostile. Often, this behavior and work atmosphere negatively affects the employee’s ability to do their job.
Examples of this include:
- Making offensive and vulgar jokes
- Sexual or degrading physical remarks or conduct
- Showing sexually implicit media
- Asking unwelcome questions about the victim’s sex life
- Treating people differently based on their gender
If an employer knew about the sexual harassment incident but ignored or failed to prevent or make the action stop, the employer may be held liable for inaction.
What can be Classified as Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Workplace sexual harassment victims can be a woman, man, or non-binary gender. The harasser may be a supervisor, coworker, a client, or a customer.
It doesn’t matter who makes the offense and whether or not their actions were intentional or not. What matters is the negative and traumatic impact it brings upon the victim, and how much it makes them feel uncomfortable (or even ill), making them unable to function properly at work. Here are some examples:
- Inappropriate comments about a person’s body or appearance – When you hear or receive unsolicited comments about your body, clothing, or appearance, call the person out on their inappropriate behavior. Take note of the remarks made and report it.
- Unwanted requests for sexual favors or dates – When a colleague or superior persistently asks you out or demands sexual favors, be firm in saying “no” and remind them that what they’re doing is sexual harassment. If the harasser is your employer or a superior and you are afraid to speak out against them, immediately report them to the HR department.
- Spreading, sharing, or displaying vulgar images – For colleagues that display NSFW (not safe for work) images or videos, remind them that they’re at work and what they’re doing is inappropriate. Report to HR if necessary.
- Inappropriate and unwanted touching – An example of this would be when a colleague places their hands on your shoulder for a “massage.” For physical acts like rubbing or brushing up against certain body parts that bring you discomfort, call out the person’s attention. If they ignore your warning, report them.
- Making sexually offensive gestures – This could be when a colleague makes lewd acts behind someone’s back as a joke. If you witness someone doing this to a coworker or experience it yourself, call out them out and report it to HR.
- Physically blocking your path or your movements – This could be when a colleague blocks your way intentionally and looks at you from head to toe with a suggestive facial expression. This is borderline intimidating and disturbing. Report them for their uncomfortable actions.
- Following you around – When the harasser is acting like a stalker, following you around the pantry, outside of work, or wherever you go during work events, to the point that it makes you uncomfortable, call them out. Document these instances and present them to your HR department to give him a warning.
- Derogatory remarks – Offensive and intimidating remarks, such as teasing someone about their sexual orientation, making sexist comments, or calling a person using derogatory names create a hostile work environment. Take note of the comments, date and time, and any witnesses for proof. Then, present and report them to HR.
Stand Up for a Safe Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace happens, and it can happen to anyone. But, the fact of the matter is it’s against the law. If you or a colleague have experienced workplace sexual harassment, report it immediately to HR.
If you have a strong case, you can file a lawsuit against the offender. There are laws in place that allow you to do this and to protect you. If you’re looking for an employment attorney to consult about related matters, reach out to Shegerian & Associates for assistance.
Did you know?
$1.05 Million Verdict in Sexual Harassment Case
This Shegerian & Associates client was subjected to sexual harassment on the job by her direct supervisor. Her supervisor denied the harassment when our client complained about it and then fired her, claiming that it was due to “corporate downsizing.”