What Should You Do about Sexual Harassment?


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When the headlines hit close to home.

You’ve read the articles about sexual harassment that are all over the news. You’ve read the #MeToo stories and stared at the faces of Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” cover. You’ve heard the news reports on television.

Maybe you’ve begun to think about your own work situation and the behavior you’ve tolerated for years. Sexual harassment on the job can make you feel embarrassed,
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emotionally upset, or fearful. As you try to do your work, you should not be forced to avoid or discourage offending behavior.

Maybe you think you have no power—that tolerating sexually harassing behavior is a cost of remaining employed.

It’s not. It is against the law and a violation of your civil rights.

Let’s discuss what you should do if you are being sexually harassed at work.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment occurs when a coworker, supervisor, or customer harasses you because of your sex. While it includes behavior such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other conduct of a sexual nature, other types of behavior also constitute sexual harassment.

Harassing behavior can also include offensive remarks about gender—even if those comments are of a general nature. Example: “Women just aren’t any good at engineering.”

Sexual harassment generally falls into one of two categories: severe and pervasive or quid pro quo.

Severe and Pervasive Sexual Harassment

Severe and pervasive harassment usually persists for a long period of time and creates a hostile work environment. This type of harassment includes when a coworker, supervisor or customer:

-Makes comments about your body, figure, or appearance.
-Attempts to talk to you about sexual situations or asks you about your sex life.
-Makes unwanted sexual advances toward you.
-Discusses your gender in a lewd manner or makes negative comments about women or men in general.
-Touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.
-Shows, or asks, you to view pornography.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning “something for something.” With quid pro quo harassment, a coworker, supervisor, or customer insists that you yield to his or her sexual advances in exchange for doing something, or in exchange for not doing something.

If a supervisor offers you a promotion, better hours, or a bonus in exchange for sexual favors, that is quid pro quo harassment, even if you walk away.

Quid pro quo harassment also occurs when a supervisor threatens your job unless you perform sexual acts.

A consensual relationship with a coworker can also result in quid pro quo harassment if you are retaliated against on the job after terminating the relationship.

What happens when you complain to your employer or human resources about sexual harassment?

If you have been sexually harassed, check your company handbook for your employer’s sexual harassment policy and reporting procedures. Usually, you are required to report the situation to human resources or your manager.

Keep in mind, the law offers protection from retaliation after you’ve complained about unlawful conduct.

If the harassment continues after you’ve filed a complaint with your employer or human resources—or if they fail to address the situation altogether—you should speak with an attorney about what to do next to protect your rights.

Three steps to take when making a sexual harassment claim:

1. Keep a journal to create a timeline. Write down each instance of inappropriate conduct, with the names of the offender or offenders and the dates and location. Include how each instance made you feel emotionally, and how each instance affected your ability to do your job, as well as how it affected your personal life.

2. Do not discuss what happened with coworkers, or share stories of similar behavior. Anyone at your company could be a potential witnesses and further, they may be loyal to the harasser.

3. If your employer is conducting an investigation, cooperate to the extent possible, keeping your attorney informed.

If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, it’s a good idea speak to an employment law attorney about your rights.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Murphy, Esq.
Michael Murphy is the founding member of Murphy Law Group, LLC, in Philadelphia. Murphy Law Group represents residents of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey who are involved in employment-related disputes with their employers.

Murphy is known for his quality, client-focused representation in all matters pertaining to employment law, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations. He has extensive experience in bringing class-action lawsuits and has successfully recovered millions of dollars in unlawfully denied compensation.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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