Sexual harassment is a phrase that gets used a lot, but few people have a good understanding of exactly what it entails, or of the legal rights that are afforded to those who have been victimized by it. Sexual harassment is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is considered a form of discrimination. It describes conduct, either verbal or physical, that is sexual in nature, including unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors. When sexual harassment occurs in a workplace that has 15 or more employees, perpetrators may be prosecuted under federal law.
Despite that attention that charges of sexual harassment have gotten in the news media in recent years, victims are often uncertain whether to come forward and whether what they have experienced constitutes a crime. If you have found yourself wondering about something that has happened to you and whether it meets the standard of sexual harassment, you are not alone: there are layers of nuance to every situation that means that what is considered harassment by one person is acceptable from another, in another environment. The following list provides a guide to what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Direct or indirect threats made to induce sexual activity
- Bribes for sexual activity
- Sexual innuendo and comments
- Sexually suggestive jokes
- Unwelcomed touching or brushing against a person
- Pervasive displays of materials with sexually illicit or graphic content
- Attempted or completed sexual assault
Sexual harassment can be directed toward men as well as women and can be perpetrated by women as well as men. There is also no requirement or implied understanding that the person who is acting in violation of the law need be the opposite sex from their victim. Additionally, harassment is not dependent upon the perpetrator being in a superior position to the object of their unwanted attention. The action of a supervisor, a peer, a person in a lower-ranking position, and even a person not employed in the workplace can all constitute sexual harassment. It is also important to note that offensive actions that are not directed towards the person who makes the complaint can still be considered sexual harassment if that person is negatively affected.
When you feel that you have been victimized by sexual harassment, it can be difficult to make the decision to come forward and file a complaint. Many fear retaliation on the part of coworkers or employers, but it is important to understand that the law forbids this type of action and provides protections against it. If you are concerned about sexual harassment that you believe has occurred in your workplace or that has specifically targeted you, take proactive steps by meeting with a sexual harassment attorney who can advise you of your rights and what your next steps should be. The compassionate attorneys at Bochetto & Lentz are knowledgeable and experienced in working with victims of sexual harassment, and we can help you.
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