Sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual advance at work that creates a hostile or offensive environment. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, and it knows no gender (for example, a male can sexually harass another male, a male can harass a female, etc). Numerous state and federal laws exist to protect employees from having to work in a hostile environment.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment may be overt, such as sexual assault or unwanted touching, but it is can also be much subtler. For example, repeated compliments about one’s appearance can constitute sexual harassment if it happens frequently enough, or if the language used is inappropriate.
In general, there are two main types of sexual harassment that are unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Hostile Work Environment – Claims arise when there is some type of unwanted sexual conduct occurring at work, such as inappropriate comments or touching. These types of claims must not only be offensive to the employee making the complaint, but to any reasonable person in the same situation.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment – When a supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for some type of employment action, including but not limited to: promotion or demotion; increase in salary; or additional fringe benefits such as extra paid time off, use of the company credit card, etc.
Sexual harassment can take on many forms, including:
- Unwanted touching
- Repeated compliments on one’s appearance
- Being questioned about your sex life
- Repeated hugs
- Spreading sexual rumors about a person
- Dirty jokes
- Unwanted romantic or sexual gifts
- Unwanted sexting or sending of “nudes”
- Someone talking about their sex life in front of you
- One person complimenting the attractiveness of another person in front of an employee
- Sexual propositions
- Circulating inappropriate photos
What to Do if You are Being Harassed
Ask the offender directly to stop – If you feel that you are being subjected to unwanted sexual conduct at work, you could directly ask the offender to stop. Not only will this empower you and give the person a chance to cease the inappropriate behavior on their own accord, but it can also help you build a case should the conduct continue and you decide to file a legal claim for sexual harassment.
Write or e-mail a letter – If the offender continues harassing you after you have asked them to stop, or if you do not feel comfortable confronting them face to face, then write them a letter asking them to stop. Retain a copy for your own records.
Go to a supervisor – If the behavior continues, or you do not feel comfortable writing them a letter, inform your supervisor of what is happening. You may want to check your employee handbook or workplace policies to learn the appropriate reporting procedure for these types of situations. If your supervisor is the one harassing you, you will need to report the harassment to a higher authority.
Employees must first use internal complaint procedures before they can prevail in a lawsuit, according to the United States Supreme Court. This is because the courts want employers to have an opportunity to resolve the problem before the matter needs to be escalated to legal action.
Maintain Documentation of The Harassment
Be sure to document everything, keeping a detailed journal of the harassment you experience and gathering any evidence that might be relevant down the road. For example, if you were sent unwanted sexual photographs, be sure to screenshot and save them. If there were paper pictures pinned-up at the office that made you feel uncomfortable, take a photo of it.
If asking the harasser and/or complaining to your supervisor to have them stop is unsuccessful, then you can file a claim for sexual harassment to the appropriate state or federal agency. An experienced South Jersey employment lawyer can help you determine where, and how, to file your claim.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), nearly 75 percent of those who are sexually harassed fail to report it. It may be that sexual harassment is severely underreported because people fear employment retaliation. However, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment.
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at Burnham Law Group, LLC Stand Up for Victims Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you have questions about whether the conduct you experienced is legally actionable and what your recourse and remedies might be, contact the South Jersey employment lawyers at Burnham Law Group, LLC today at (856) 751-5505 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Marlton and Somers Point, New Jersey. We proudly represent clients throughout South Jersey, including those in Burlington County, Camden County, and in the communities of Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Marlton and Medford.