Sexual harassment, despite the illegal nature of the actions and the toxic affect it has the workplace, may be so deeply normalized in some workplaces that it may be hard for women workers to characterize certain behaviors as harassing, because they have become so used to the unwelcome and unwanted advances, comments and touching. Courts define sexual harassment as unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This means that even being called names or comments made about an employee’s body could be actionable in court, even if doing so goes along with the general atmosphere of a workplace.
The court derived definition comes from a variety of legal resources. The EEOC in 1986 issued guidelines which helped shaped the legal definition of sexual harassment. The agency describes sexual harassment as two types of workplace conduct:
- quid pro quo
- hostile environment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment describes an employer’s conduct that conditions an employee’s job on the performance of sexual favors or acts. Hostile environment sexual harassment describes frequent or severe sex discrimination that has created an abusive work environment.
Let the harasser know the conduct is unwelcome and unwanted
With so much emphasis placed on the unwelcome aspect of sexual conduct at work in courts, employees are wise to take definitive steps to inform their harasser unequivocally that offensive conduct is not welcome or acceptable. This step alone may be difficult for employees whose harassers are supervisors, managers or even clients and is taken into consideration when determining whether actions meet the standard for harassment.
Yet, attempting to set such boundaries are essential. When the limits of your patience and work ethic are blurred, colleagues and supervisors may use the opportunity to take advantage. Instead, keep your boundaries clearly defined so that when they are crossed, a definitive statement that the conduct is unwelcome can be documented and asserted later, in court, if need be.
While a female worker may be reluctant to expose a co-worker for sexual harassment right away, another essential step is to at least privately document each instance of sexually harassing behavior. Keeping a secure diary of the events helps keep track of the daily occurrences as they happen and places less pressure on a worker to recount and recall details that could be harder to remember later down the line.
An organized and clearly documented timeline of sexual harassment can also help when or if an attorney is hired or should the EEOC become involved. Employment discrimination professionals will be on the alert for the severity and frequency of the noted incidences of sexual harassment to determine whether or not a worker has a strong case against an employer.
File a grievance complaint through human resources
Again, it may be particularly difficult to take certain steps that would put the offensive conduct of a supervisor manager or even a co-worker on public display, especially when the employee fears retaliation on behalf of the employer but taking the time to file a grievance complaint with the HR department could be the best way to build a strong case against an employer. Especially if the company has a handbook which outlines the proper steps to take to complain about harassment within the organization. In some instances, showing that a worker clearly and diligently followed all the necessary steps outlined in the company handbook before filing a claim or a charge with the EEOC is a helpful benefit in a sexual harassment case.
Contact an experienced and well-qualified attorney as soon as possible
When your work environment becomes toxic and overwhelming, it’s very difficult to go at it alone. Especially in sexual harassment cases, where an employee’s job and career could be on the line, employees should take extra precautions in handling matters and use the expert of advice from an attorney skilled in employment discrimination law. Doing so may help avoid wasting time, costly mistakes or bring to light new information that an employee may not be able to consider without trusted, professional help and guidance.
If you feel that you are being subjected to any form of sexual harassment in the workplace then you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing sexual harassment are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice. Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.