Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as unwelcomed physical or verbal conduct, advances, or requests of a sexual nature. Those acts may interfere with a person’s work, employment status, or establish an unsafe, offensive, hostile, or intimidating work environment.
There are several types of sexual harassment in the workplace. It all starts with the two classifications of “quid pro quo” or “hostile environment.” Sometimes, a sexual harassment complaint can fall into both categories. What constitutes sexual harassment?
Examples of Sexual Harassment
Victims of sexual harassment can be any gender. The offender can be a superior, co-worker, contractor, vendor, or another department manager. The person who files a sexual harassment doesn’t have to be the victim. It can be someone who works with the victim and is affected by it. Here are examples of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Acts of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is sexual assault. It is rape or attempted rape. It can be actual penetration or attempted penetration or forced oral sex that is not consensual. It does fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment and is definitely something any woman, man, or transgender must report.
You’re not alone. One in seven women and one in 17 men have left a job or transferred to another department due to sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Sadly, more than 85% never file charges and 70% do not complain to their human resources department.
It seems incredibly invasive and personal to recount the details, but it’s so very important to stand up for yourself and other potential victims. Work with an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace and have a friend by your side the entire time.
- Discussion of Sexual Encounters, Dreams, and Stories/in the Workplace
You’re at work and a co-worker starts bragging about his or her sexual conquests over the weekend. It makes you uncomfortable and you don’t want to remain at your desk until that conversation stops. This causes you to fall behind or miss important calls. Ask them to stop. If they don’t, you have a valid harassment complaint.
- Exposing Oneself or Masturbating in the Workplace Where Others Can Walk In or See It
Exposing yourself in the workplace isn’t acceptable in many situations. If you’re a guy and you forget to zip up, it’s accidental. Apologize and take measures to prevent that from happening again. A woman who is in a private room expressing breast milk is not exposing herself. She is legally allowed to do so, and the room she’s given for this purpose shouldn’t be accessible to others while she’s in there.
But, you’re entering the break room for lunch and walking in on a contractor masturbating. That is sexual harassment, even if it’s not a coworker. Contractors, delivery people, cleaners, and clientele all count as people you can accuse of sexual harassment.
- Exposing Others to Sexually Explicit Photos, Texts, or Emails
Suppose you get an email from your co-worker. It’s a joke of a sexual nature, and it’s offensive to you. That is sexual harassment. Someone sends a sexually explicit photo to another person in your office, and you can see that photo when you walk by or from your desk. That’s also harassment.
- Promotions or Employment Is Dependent on Granting Sexual Favors
You’re interested in a promotion coming up in your department. You put in for it, and the manager in that department sends a message asking you to meet up after hours to discuss it. During that meeting, he makes an advance. You say no and later learn a co-worker said yes and got the promotion over you, even though you had more experience. You have a valid sexual harassment complaint.
- Requests of Sexual Favors or Feeling Pressured to Engage Sexually
It’s been over a year since you’ve had a raise, and you feel you’re due. While you’re talking to your supervisor, she suggests you have better chances of getting what you want if you agree to go to a conference with her and share a hotel suite. You go and she hits on you, when you say no, she says you’ll never get the raise unless you sleep with her this one time. That’s sexual harassment.
- Unwanted Physical Contact or Sexual Advances
You work in a restaurant and the chef keeps rubbing your shoulders and making sexual advances. You tell him to stop, but he doesn’t. Or, suppose you deliver water to an office regularly and the manager is always making comments about your muscles and touching them. If it’s unwanted advances or contact, it’s sexual harassment.
- Verbal Harassment/Joking About Sexual Orientation or Sexual Acts
Verbal harassment and jokes are also harassment. If you are transgender and have a customer who continually jokes about your sexual orientation, it’s not acceptable. If you have a coworker who loves to tell dirty jokes, even if you’ve asked for him to stop, it’s time to file a complaint.
Facts That Have to Be Considered
When you need to file a sexual harassment complaint, make sure you gather every piece of evidence you can. Save emails and messages. Write out details of physical acts that were attempted. Use your employee manual to determine to whom you complain. If you’re supposed to file a complaint through your HR department, do so and ask for updates. Track every piece of information they send you.
Generally, an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint will ask two key questions:
Does It Meet the Classification of “Unwelcome?” – Did the client, contractor, supervisor, co-worker, etc. get mixed messages because of something you said or didn’t say? Did you instigate the behavior and then change your mind? Did you say no and ask them to stop, or did you laugh first and then file the complaint after?
Did It Create a Hostile Work Environment? – Did the actions of the other party create a hostile work environment? Did those actions make you feel unsafe and unwelcome to the point you could not continue working there?
These questions aren’t meant to keep you from feeling comfortable filing a sexual harassment complaint. They’re just part of the investigative process. If you have evidence to back up your complaint, a sexual harassment or sexual assault claim can be quickly resolved in your favor. You shouldn’t have to leave your job due to another person’s behavior. In addition, if you do file a complaint, retaliation is also not legal.
Sexual harassment is illegal (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Employers in companies with 15 or more employees are accountable for establishing and maintaining a harassment-free workplace.
In California, the laws go behind this. All employers are responsible for preventing and stopping sexual harassment, no matter how many employees are in the business. Training is mandatory at least every two years if there are at least five employees. California employers have to have written policies covering sexual harassment with clear instructions on how to report it if it happens.
Is your company not taking your complaint seriously? File a sexual harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or seek a free consultation with a specialist in employment laws. You don’t have a lot of time to file your complaint, so make sure you file a complaint as soon as it happens.
Shegerian Conniff is here to discuss your options and be by your side throughout the process. Arrange a consultation online or call us to talk about your harassment situation.