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Sexual harassment: more than unwanted physical advances

When people think about sexual harassment in the workplace, unwanted sexual solicitation or physical touching commonly come to mind. You may think of a male boss who demands a sexual relationship from a female subordinate. This type of sexual harassment is known as quid pro quo harassment.

There is a second, more subtle form of sexual harassment in which an employee creates a hostile work environment for another employee based on their sex or gender. Let’s take a closer look at what constitutes a hostile work environment, and what to do if it’s a reality in your workplace.

What constitutes a hostile work environment?

In order to be a hostile work environment:

  • A co-worker or superior’s actions are unwelcome
  • Their actions stem from your sex or gender
  • Their conduct creates an abusive or hostile work environment
  • You believe that your co-worker’s actions are offensive or abusive
  • Any reasonable person would believe that your co-worker’s actions are offensive or abusive

Their harassment can be physical, verbal or visual in nature. This can include a variety of behaviors including: offensive jokes about sex or gender, derogatory language, racy images or threats.

What can you do if you work in a hostile environment?

Your exact response will vary based on who is creating the hostile work environment, and their actions. In all cases, make the company aware of the problem, and try to correct the problem. Report all harassment, and give your company a chance to correct the issue before you attempt to take action in court.

Your company should have a set protocol for handling sexual harassment. Check your employee handbook or speak with a human resources professional for guidance. Document every unwanted encounter: keep track of dates, what happened and witnesses.

If you experience harassment:

  • Tell the perpetrator to stop. You can verbally ask them to stop, or send them an email explaining their unwelcome actions. Keep a record of all communication.
  • Report hostile behavior to your supervisor. Provide them with concrete examples of the harassment and steps you have taken to correct the matter. Legally, your company cannot retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment.
  • Report harassment to human resources. HR can file an official report, speak with your co-worker about their unwanted actions and help you determine next steps for handling the matter.
  • Report the incident to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you continue to face harassment, send your complaint to the EEOC. If they investigate and you do not receive a settlement, you can file a Title VII lawsuit.
  • Contact an attorney. An attorney can evaluate your situation and help you determine whether or not to file a claim. If you have a solid case of sexual harassment, they can represent your interests and help you gain the compensation you deserve.

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