Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under Title VII's protections against sex/gender discrimination. Sexual harassment can include any unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, or oral or physical behavior creating an offensive or sexually charged environment for employees of either gender. Sexual harassment can exist between employees of the same sex. There are two types of sexual harassment under Title VII:
- "Quid Pro Quo" sexual harassment is when submitting to or rejecting the harassment is used as the basis for a decision regarding employment, or is otherwise linked to job benefits. (For example, "Have sex with me, and I'll give you a raise").
- "Hostile Work Environment" sexual harassment exists when unwelcome behavior is not necessarily linked to job benefits, but it is so "pervasive or severe" that it makes it difficult for the employee to perform his or her job. This means that a throwaway comment or minor isolated incident generally will not rise to the level of sexual harassment under the law.
It is important to note that in order to be considered sexual harassment, behavior must be knowingly unwelcome. If you are dealing with unwanted come-ons, lewd jokes, or other sexual behavior at your work, you must make it clear to the harasser that you do not like the behavior and want it to stop. It is not enough just to ignore someone and hope that they will lose interest - not only does this method rarely deter sexual harassers, it also jeopardizes your ability to take advantage of legal protections available to you.
You should also make sure your employer knows that you feel you're being harassed. In particular where the harasser is not a person in management, for example a coworker or customer, the employer is not held legally responsible for the situation unless you can demonstrate that management knew or should have known about the situation and had the opportunity to correct it. Many employers have protocols in place for employees who wish to make complaints. Try to follow that protocol. Depending on how your company is organized, this could mean reporting the situation to the Human Resources Department, the owner of the company, your supervisor, an employee hotline, the head of your division, etc. If your immediate supervisor is the person responsible for the harassment and you do not feel comfortable addressing him or her directly, then report the situation to the next person in the chain of command or to an HR representative.
Title VII covers employers with fifteen or more employees. Many states have laws which expand sexual harassment protections to cover smaller employers. Please see our chart of Information by State for more detailed information.
If you believe that you are or were the victim of sex or gender discrimination, it is important to contact a knowledgeable employment attorney as soon as possible, as there may be serious time limit issues to your case. The attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP are committed advocates of employee rights with years of experience handling gender discrimination claims. Contact us to discuss the details of your case.