What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

sexual harassment in the workplace

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, conduct, or statements that interfere with an employee’s job performance or that create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment. Despite the measures taken by companies to ensure sexual harassment is included in employee orientation processes, the problem persists in workplaces in California and across the country.

While many people associate sexual harassment with the overtly aggressive acts portrayed in movies, sexual harassment isn’t always easy to spot. In fact, the definition of sexual harassment is so broad that it can leave many workers unsure if an uncomfortable encounter with their employer or co-worker falls under the legal umbrella.

What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?

According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the most common instances sexual harassment at work include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Unwanted sexual advances

  • Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors

  • Actual or threatened retaliation

  • Leering or making sexual gestures

  • Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters

  • Making sexual comments, slurs, or jokes

  • Making sexual comments about an individual’s body

  • Using sexually degrading words to describe an individual

  • Physical touching or brushing up against a person, as well as impeding or blocking movement

It’s important to note that sexual desire is not necessary for an encounter to constitute as sexual harassment.

Psychological consequences of sexual harassment

The emotional effects of sexual harassment vary from person to person. In general, victims of sexual harassment can experience:

  • Long-term depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Stress and anxiety that lead to sleep problems

  • Constant sense of being on alert

  • Anticipating danger and feeling unsafe

  • Suicidal thoughts

Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace

According to a recent survey, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work. However, females aren’t the only victims of unwanted or unprofessional sexual advances by employers or co-workers – men can be recipients of sexual harassment, too. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission reported that men filed 17.1 percent of charges alleging sexual harassment in 2015.

What to do if you’ve been sexually harassed at work

When faced with an uncomfortable work situation that is sexual in nature, many employees are hesitant to take action for fear of creating a more hostile work environment. If this sounds like you, it may help to know that it’s illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for filing complaints. This being said, it’s always a good idea to get a copy of your personnel file detailing your positive work performance before attempting to resolve the situation – just in case.

Next, it’s time to report the issue to your supervisor or on-site human resources manager. He or she will interview you, the accused party, and witnesses about what happened. Be sure to collect any emails or other forms of written documentation that could help your case. The investigation that follows will impact both the accuser and the accused, and you want to make sure you have enough information to prove that something inappropriate happened. Finally, you will need to file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. This is where having an experienced attorney by your side becomes invaluable.

You have a right to work in a safe environment

Claims for psychological trauma can be very hard to win without a workers’ compensation attorney. If you are a victim of sexual harassment and have suffered emotional distress due to an uncomfortable encounter at work, please call us. At the Law Offices of Gerald D. Brody & Associates, we have years of experience defending workers’ rights and will fight hard to ensure you receive full compensation for your emotional injuries. Contact us today and take the first step towards getting justice and collecting the benefits you deserve.