Between the numerous sexual abuse scandals coming out of Hollywood and the #metoo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace was a hot topic in 2018.
The phrase “sexual harassment” was first used in 1976 when Redbook published the results of a survey called What Men Do to Women on the Job, which found that many women suffered from unwelcome sexual advances at work.
The U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes Sexual Harassment as the Basis for a Lawsuit
In the 1970s the United States legal system, including the courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), struggled with how to define sexual harassment.
By 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as the basis for a lawsuit in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, which identified two kinds of sexual harassment, and found that both constitute unlawful workplace discrimination.
The two kinds of sexual harassment recognized by the Equal Employment Commission (EEOC) that the Supreme Court recognized include hostile work environment sexual harassment, and quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, innuendos, or offensive gender-related language that is so severe or pervasive as to create a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision, such as the victim of the harassment being fired or demoted.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a person in authority implies that he or she will give the employee something, such as a raise or promotion, in exchange for the employee satisfying a sexual demand.
Defining Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Following Anita Hill’s 1991 accusations that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her and the numerous professional trainings about sexual harassment in the workplace that have followed, few Americans can claim that they do not know what sexual harassment is. In spite of increased training about sexual harassment awareness, sexual harassment still occurs, and people in positions of power continue to claim that they did not know that their behavior was inappropriate.
The best way to combat sexual harassment in the workplace is for women who are victims of sexual harassment to continue coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as well as “offensive remarks about a person’s sex,” like making offensive comments about women in general.
While teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents are not illegal and do not rise to the level of sexual harassment, harassment is illegal when it creates a hostile offensive work environment results in an adverse employment decision such as the loss of a job or a demotion.
What to Do if You Have Suffered Sexual Harassment at Work
Begin by writing down the event. This creates a record of the person’s behavior so you’ll have evidence if you decide to report it later.
You may want to talk to the harasser. In some instances, this will solve the problem. Try to be specific and tell them that their actions made you uncomfortable without accusing them of anything. Write down that you had the conversation for your records.
If you get no response or the behavior does not change, you have proof that you tried to address the issue but it still persisted.
Of course, some problems cannot be handled this way. If the harasser is violent or retaliatory, don’t put yourself in danger by confronting them directly.
If you’re not comfortable confronting the harasser directly or have confronted the harasser and the behavior did not stop, report the issue to Human Resources or the highest-ranking person in the office. If that’s not possible, consult with a lawyer.
Tom Robenaltstarted his litigation career at a large firm in Cleveland defending institutions accused of sexual harassment. For the past 20 years, he has used that experience to help Ohioans obtain the damages to which they are entitled.
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