What is sexual harassment?
Unfortunately, sexual harassment still occurs with some frequency in the workplace. While technically a type of gender discrimination, there are actually two primary different types of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. A rare third type of sexual harassment is called third party hostile environment.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when the work environment becomes extremely uncomfortable because of gender. While the conduct need not be overtly sexual, it most often is. Common examples are offensive statements, physical touching, or invading personal space. When analyzing whether certain actions create a hostile work environment, there is both a subjective and an objective component. For example, one employee might be overly sensitive to certain statements (e.g. "Your shoes are very nice"). Given that such statements are unlikely to be found objectionable by most people, it is unlikely that it would lead to sexual harassment. At the same time, there must also be some type of conduct that would, under an objective view, be considered sexual harassment, however, the employee is not offended and thus it wouldn't typically create a hostile working environment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is where a supervisory employee makes employment opportunities or benefits contingent upon some type of inappropriate relationship. For example, a boss might suggest that a person could get a promotion, a job transfer, more pay, etc. if they were to go out on a date with him. Similarly, an employee might suffer some type of adverse consequences if they do not agree to engage in some type of a relationship.
Third party sexual harassment occurs when one employee is present and overhears comments or actions that, while not directed at the employee, could be considered as sexually hostile. For example, witnessing one employee making explicitly sexual statements to another employee, while not offensive to the employee to which they are directed, could very well be a form of sexual harassment.
How do I know if I have been subjected to a sexually hostile work environment?
Discerning whether certain types of action constitute sexual harassment can be very difficult. This is particularly true when analyzing whether you have been subjected to a hostile work environment. Given this difficulty, it is best to speak directly with a competent attorney who will thoroughly analyze the specific instances and let you know what legal rights you should pursue. Even if the conduct does not rise to the level of sexual harassment, it is wise to speak with an attorney because there are certainly things that can be done to stop unwanted conduct in the workplace.
What do I do if I am the victim of sexual harassment?
Unfortunately, far too many people are victimized by sexual harassment and don't do anything about it. People feel as though there is little that they can do about it and fear that complaining will only make matters worse or subject them to some type of retaliation. When this happens, it makes the workplace almost unbearable.
At BB+K we are experienced in working with individuals who have been subjected to sexual harassment and we recognize that there is no one size fits all solution to all types of sexual harassment. If you feel as though you might have been subjected to sexual harassment, contact us to discuss your concerns.