Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
A shift in the way that Americans deal with sexual harassment and assault is occurring. You can feel it as you scroll through Facebook, check your Twitter feed, and watch the news. Victims of sexual harassment who have kept their experiences quiet are gaining the courage to share their stories. In mid-October, the “Me Too” campaign took over social media feeds, revealing that over 33 million U.S. women have been sexually harassed. The Harvey Weinstein scandal burst open the doors for celebrities to discuss sexual harassment within their industry, something almost unheard of until now, without fearing retaliation as more and more of their peers speak up.
With so much attention being brought to this issue, harassers are now beginning to be held accountable. But, so much still needs to be done in the workplace. Currently, one-in-three women between the ages of 18 and 24 will be sexually harassed in the workplace while a jarring 81 percent of women are victims of verbal sexual assault.
The time has come for companies to take sexual harassment seriously.
What Constitutes as Sexual Harassment?
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing defines sexual harassment as “discrimination based on sex/gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions) gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” This is much more encompassing that the EEOC’s definition of, which is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Together, these two definitions protect employees from all types of harassment that span from the most obvious forms to more obscure forms.
Most of us recognizes that quid pro quo cases (when an authority figure promises you a job or benefits in exchange of sexual favors) is a form of sexual harassment.
The other category that sexual harassment typically falls under are actions that create a hostile work environment. This type is trickier to determine because it isn’t always explicit. In fact, in a study where women were asked if they had been sexually harassed at work, 16 percent said no. But, those same women replied “yes” when asked if they had experienced sexually explicit or sexist remarks. As you can see, without properly defining what constitutes as sexual harassment, employees begin to expect that their discomfort is just part of their workplace environment. To help employees understand their rights, employers must, according to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Title 2, do all of the following:
- Give employees information on the illegality of sexual harassment and legal remedies that may be taken
- Employers with 50 or more employees must provide sexual harassment and abuse conduct prevention training
Such training should help employees identify what actions constitute sexual harassment such as:
- Lewd jokes
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images
- Sexual gestures and whistling
- Asking or saying something offensive about someone’s sexual history or orientation
- Sexual and suggestive notes or emails
- Earning a promotion or job through sexual favors (quid pro quo)
When an employee or employer consistently creates an uncomfortable environment for other workers, it can have a stressful and de-moralizing impact. The best way to stop this behavior is to report it. Unfortunately, behavior like this is allowed to run rampant since most victims will not file a complaint.
Why People Don’t Report Sexual Harassment:
According to the EEOC, only 6 to 13 percent of people harassed will file a formal complaint. A big reason why these numbers are so low stems from employees fearing retaliation, which isn’t an unfounded concern. Approximately 75 percent of victims who file a formal complaint will suffer from retaliation. Be aware that retaliation may not come in obvious forms of abuse, such as verbally or physically assaulting someone. Oftentimes, it can look like all of the following:
- Lower performance evaluations
- Increased scrutiny
- False rumors
- Making work more difficult
- Being denied a promotion
- Being given the “cold shoulder”
- Less pay because of your gender
- Gender discrimination
If you feel that these actions were taken because you filed a complaint, talk to human resources or a supervisor. If retaliation continues, it’s time to get a lawyer involved.
What You Can Do if You’re Being Harassed:
Sexual harassment is no laughing matter and shouldn’t be treated so. Begin documenting instances of sexual harassment by writing down each experience as it happens. Don’t forget to write down date, time, place, and any witnesses that can be used to back up your claims.
Instead of deleting emails, texts, or even Snapchats, keep and file them for further evidence, no matter how nauseating it may be. As you collect evidence, make copies, but never leave them at work, otherwise you risk someone trying to steal or destroy them. Keep evidence anywhere you believe they will remain safe such as at home, in a briefcase, or in your car.
Using your evidence, file a formal complaint against your work harasser with human resources or a supervisor, preferably a written one. Before or after you’ve filed your formal complaint, discuss your case with Wilshire Law Firm’s employment lawyer, Nicol Hajjar, for legal advice on what to next. When consulting with your lawyer for the first time, make sure to bring the evidence you have collected thus far.
Time and time again, it has been proven that no company is too big to take down. Wilshire Law Firm’s holds firm to this idea and has maintained a goal of holding companies accountable for their actions or lack of actions that harm employees. Our team of lawyers will work tirelessly and aggressively to punish companies for violating your rights to work in a harassment-free environment.
Call today to discuss your case at 1-800-522-7274!