Sexual harassment, especially when it takes place in the workplace, can make you feel like you have no reasonable resources to turn to. Some victims are afraid to speak up and even fear their employer may reprimand them if they report an offense. However, there are specific laws that require employers to acknowledge and resolve sexual harassment offenses without retaliating against employees who report them. If your workplace does not have a sexual harassment policy, punishes you for reporting an offense, or does not adequately resolve your complaint, you have the right to file a sexual harassment claim.
Unfortunately, many victims don’t know that filing a sexual harassment claim is an option, so they continue to deal with workplace environments whose sexual harassment policies are insufficient or non-existent.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve experienced sexual harassment or what to do if you have, don’t worry. Here we’ve provided some information that explains what sexual harassment looks like in the workplace and a step-by-step guide of how to proceed if you’ve experienced sexual harassment:
What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination that targets an individual on the basis of sex. It includes actions such as unwelcome advances, solicitation of sexual favors, and any other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature, including offensive remarks.
Sexual harassment can also include giving less-favorable treatment to an individual because of his or her sex. Sexual discrimination can take place in decisions related to hiring, firing, promotion, benefits, and more, as we’ve detailed in a blog post here.
Sexual harassment is illegal both under federal law and under the New York State Human Rights Law (as well as under several other states’ laws). It can also fall under the NY Penal Code if the offense involves any of the following: forcible touching, criminal sexual acts, sexual abuse, or persistent sexual abuse.
It is a mistake to assume that only those in positions of authority, such as employers and managers, can be perpetrators of sexual harassment. Offenders can also be supervisors, co-workers, or even those that you have direct authority over.
Furthermore, sexual harassment does not only happen at the physical workplace. Often it can persist outside of it, through phone calls, text messages, emails, home visits, and more.
Some indications that you have experienced sexual harassment might be:
- You experience unwanted advances from your offender
- You reschedule your shifts or other work-related duties to avoid interacting with your offender
- You feel uncomfortable or threatened by your offender
- Your offender’s advances result in termination, demotion, or other punishments
- Your offender’s actions impact your overall well-being or personal life
If you have further questions about what qualifies as sexual harassment, take a look at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition.
Reporting Sexual Harassment
You are entitled to report any sexual harassment offense to your employer, and your employer is responsible for resolving your complaint. Before you take legal action, it’s important that you carefully follow your employer’s procedure regarding sexual harassment.
Many employers ask that you first address the problem directly with your offender. In some cases of harassment, an offender may not fully understand that their actions are discriminatory or harmful toward you.
If addressing the matter personally with the perpetrator does not resolve your complaint, or if you feel that addressing the issue with the offender may put you in danger, follow the next steps in your employer’s procedure. This often involves talking to your direct supervisor or reporting the incident to HR, who will attempt to resolve your complaint from there.
By following your employer’s procedure to the letter—including making sure your complaint is documented by your workplace—you ensure that if your employer is unable to resolve the matter, they cannot claim ignorance of the offense.
Be sure to keep a detailed record of the offense or offenses, when and where they happened, the relevant dates and times, and any persons involved. As you go through the process of reporting an offense to your employer, also keep a record of how and when you reported the incident, any communication that followed, and who was involved in the process. This can serve as evidence in your case if you decide to file a legal claim.
If your employer does not have a policy to deal with sexual harassment, consider making a complaint directly to your supervisor’s superior. But remember that not having a policy in place to deal with sexual harassment claims could, in itself, make your employer liable for litigation.
What to Do if the Issue Still Isn’t Resolved
Should your workplace not have a sexual harassment policy or if there is no meaningful attempt to resolve your complaint, you have a right to take legal action against your employer. You can do this by filing a sexual harassment claim.
When filing a sexual harassment claim, it’s important to know the kind of harassment you are reporting in terms of legal classification. Here is a breakdown of the two main types of sexual harassment as well as local classifications specific to states such as New York:
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
In this case, the perpetrator requests sexual favors of any kind in return for favorable outcomes. This can include offers such as sexual favors in exchange for promotions or bonuses, as well as blackmailing someone to go on a date at risk of losing their job if they don’t. This type of sexual harassment occurs between supervisors/managers and their subordinates.
Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment case constitutes other sexual harassment offenses that do not fall under the quid pro quo classification. These claims are brought against employers when the harassment is so sustained or serious that you find the workplace intimidating, intolerable, dangerous, or unreasonably stressful.
Unwanted Sexual Contact
In New York and other states, it’s also counted as sexual harassment if a coworker or supervisor makes unwelcome contact. This can include any kind of unwelcome touching and does not need to be in an explicitly sexual manner. For instance, it can apply if a coworker gives unwanted hugs or massages or if they touch themselves in an inappropriate way.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
When you have an understanding of what type of claim you want to file, there are three administrative agencies you can file your complaint with: the EEOC (or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the New York State Division of Human Rights, or the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
If you intend to file a federal complaint, then you have to first file an administrative complaint to the EEOC. From here, the EEOC investigates your case and determines whether or not your claim has probable cause, after which you can begin a federal case in which a hearing is held and damages can be awarded.
If you’re filing a federal sexual harassment claim in New York, in most cases you must file the claim to the EEOC within 300 days of the last occurrence of sexual harassment. Many other states require that you file the claim within 180 days of the last incident.
You can file a claim yourself, but it’s essential to understand the state’s sexual harassment laws as well as what documentation you’ll need. As such, it’s in your best interest to consult a personal-injury attorney before taking further action.
Your attorney can work with you to help gather evidence for your case, determine which kind of claim you may be liable to file, represent you in a hearing if need be, and advocate for you throughout the claim process.
Get Help with Your Sexual Harassment Claim Today
Sexual harassment should never be tolerated. If you believe that you have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, consult a personal-injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you go through the facts of your case, file your claim in the appropriate manner, and protect your legal rights.
To contact our experienced sexual harassment attorneys, fill out our free online case evaluation or call us at (844) 860-0949. All case evaluations are confidential, and you are under no obligation to pursue a case.