According to The Washington Post, the term “sexual harassment” is believed to have been coined in the mid-seventies, but the act itself has been around for generations. If you have been sexually harassed, or have witnessed sexual harassment in your workplace or elsewhere, you are not alone. That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone should tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. You have a right to a safe and comfortable work environment, and if you are being denied that, you have a right to complain. If your complaint does not resolve the issue, you have the right to sue your employer for damages, in which case you will need a strong, well-informed sexual harassment attorney.
Many people are unclear about the boundaries that separate sexual harassment from mild flirtation or acceptable witty conversation. Many also feel uncertain about when it is permissible to complain about the behavior of others. Below are some common questions we receive about sexual harassment and our answers:
Answers to the Most Common Questions About Sexual Harassment
1. Does my gender identity or that of the other person affect my claim of harassment?
No. An individual can harass or be harassed whether that person is male, female, transgender, questioning, gay, straight, bisexual or asexual. No one has the right to sexually harass another. Sexual harassment need not be a sexual advance; it may be a disparagement, a discomforting remark, “joke,” or an inappropriate question or revelation.
2. Can I complain about sexual harassment if it is not directed at me?
Yes. The law recognizes that a work environment can be uncomfortable and toxic if anyone is being sexually harassed, so you have the right to complain. You may even have a legal claim.
3. What exactly is quid pro quo sexual harassment?
Quid-pro-quo (“this-for-that”) is harassment that makes an illegal request or demand of the targeted victim. An example would be if a supervisor offers you a promotion if you provide sexual favors.
4. Is being asked on a date while at work considered sexual harassment?
While some places of employment discourage dating, social contacts that originate in the workplace are quite common. Nonetheless, repeatedly trying to date someone who has already said no may cross the boundary. Also, dating someone over whom you have direct authority may get you into trouble if you appear to favor that person or if your expressions of affection at work are inappropriate.
5. What if the person harassing me denies the allegations?
This happens frequently, which is why it is important to keep a private journal and write down the date and time of inappropriate comments, touching, or gestures. If uncomfortable cartoons or photos or cartoons are posted, take pictures of them. If you receive unacceptable emails or post-its, keep them. Make sure to tell the offending party to stop such behavior so he or she cannot state that you were not offended or did not complain. Also, the sooner you report misconduct to your supervisor, the sooner the harassment will end and you also begin leaving a trail of evidence.
6. How do I know when it’s time to complain?
Although it is good to take prompt action if you feel you are being sexually harassed, it is unwise to complain about a single dirty joke or to be petty. Wait until you can substantiate either a pattern of misconduct or a single outrageous incident, such as groping. Otherwise, you risk putting yourself in the position of “crying wolf” or becoming known as a trouble maker, which could impact your credibility.
7. What if no action is taken after I complain to my employer?
If you haven’t already contacted an experienced sexual harassment lawyer, you should do so. Not only can we answer any of your questions about sexual harassment, an attorney can also assist you in coaching you through the complaint process and help you navigate the work environment. If necessary, a lawyer can assist you with obtaining a job transfer or resigning from your position in exchange for a severance payment. The lawyer can also pursue litigation on your behalf.
8. What if the situation gets worse after I complain? What if I’m fired?
It is against the law for your employer to take any retaliatory action against you once you have filed a sexual harassment complaint. If you experience further taunting, unfair treatment, a demotion or wrongful termination, you should contact us immediately.