Under no circumstances should anyone ever have to put up with harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, both men and women are often victims of sexual harassment which can turn their work lives into a nightmare. There are numerous laws which protect employees on the federal, state and municipal level. Victims of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace have rights and an employment attorney can help protect those rights.

Not Everything Is Harassment, And Harassment Doesn’t Have To Be Sexual

Often, simply because people spend so much time together in the workplace, it is fairly common for teasing and other behaviors to occur. In some workplaces, this is commonplace and not something that rises to the level of harassment. But, when this type of behavior is constant and targets someone because of a protected characteristic like gender or failure to fit stereotyped gender roles (e.g., heterosexuality), it can often create a hostile workplace and in some cases, it is very explicit behavior.

Although law regarding harassment developed in the context of sexual harassment, workplace harassment based on many characteristics is illegal. Racial slurs or threats constitute illegal harassment if they are so severe or pervasive they affect working conditions. The same is true of conduct based on religion or national origin.

Sexual Harassment: More Than Inappropriate Touching

When teasing and offhand comments are consistent and create an environment that is hostile and based on gender or sex or only members of one gender are singled out for this type of treatment, it may be considered sexual harassment. Other types of sexual harassment include:

  • Coercing sexual favors – When a superior attempts to solicit sexual favors in return for raises, positive performance reviews or promotions, this is definitely sexual harassment.
  • Verbal harassment of a sexual nature – When anyone in the workplace, male or female constantly makes comments to a coworker that are sexual in nature, this would be considered sexual harassment.
  • Inappropriate touching – In some cases, casual physical contact in the workplace is inevitable, particularly when you are working in close quarters. However, there is a significant difference between accidental contact that can occur and deliberate touching. No employee, whether they are male or female should have to suffer unwanted, unnecessary or deliberate touching in the workplace.

Victims Should Seek Help

Victims should work with an employment attorney to find out what rights they have under the law. Review your employer’s anti-harassment policy, which may require you to contact your supervisor or human resources department.

If you do report the conduct to human resources, insist that your superior or human resources department deal with the problem quickly and ask them to advise you of what actions will be taken. Unfortunately, even when harassment is reported, too often, employers will either ignore the problem or they do not sufficiently address the problem to change the offender’s behavior. So all interactions with the person or people doing the harassing and interactions with your supervisor or human resources about the problem should be carefully documented.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the victim of harassment may find they are under increased scrutiny of their work effort and behavior. Victims are often singled out for reprimand, assigned a reduced or increased workload as a “punishment or warning” because they were so bold to report a hostile work environment. In these cases, employees sometimes can also get protection under whistleblower laws; your employer cannot take retaliatory action against you because you are reporting what you reasonably believe is illegal harassment.

When There Is No Resolution At Work

Those victims of harassment who report their concerns to human resources or to a superior and feel the problem has either increased or has not stopped should contact an employment attorney if they haven’t already. This is important because an attorney can advise you of your rights and they can help you file a suit against your employer. Employers have an obligation to ensure all employees feel safe in their workplace and that actions of other employees are not creating a hostile environment.

You have the right to feel safe at work and no employee should ever feel they deserve to be harassed. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, contact The Wood Law Office, LLC, at 312-554-8600. We have the experience dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace and can help you determine the best way to protect your rights and make sure sexual harassment in the workplace stops while preserving your livelihood. Not only do you not deserve harassment, but it is also illegal.