In today’s day and age, sexual harassment can take many forms and apply to many different types of people. While our different branches of government still argue over the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the current laws sex discrimination are founded in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The government agency that overseas sexual harassment is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The basics of sexual harassment in the workplace can be defined as:
- Any verbal or physical interaction that is sexual in nature and unwanted.
- Sexual Suggestions or explicit language about sex that is unwanted.
- A pattern of sexually discriminatory remarks. This behavior is harassment if it offensive and makes the victim uncomfortable, creates a hostile work environment, or interferes with job performance.
Sexual harassment violates the law when an employee must submit to sexual demands to keep their job. The demands may be implied or spoken. It may also apply when an employer makes decisions about an employee based on whether sexual demands are met. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, manager, a co-worker or even a non-employee. The victim doesn’t have to be of the same sex as the harasser and can be anyone who was affected by the offensive conduct.
Examples of sexual harassment are:
- Verbal abuse, jokes, or conversations about sex
- Pressure for sex such as flirting, asking for sex, staring or brushing up against a person’s body.
- Unwanted physical contact such as patting, pinching, hugging, kissing or other unnecessary touching.
- Showing sexually explicit or degrading materials. These can be videos, emails, posters, calendars, graffiti, signs or clothing with offensive messages.
- Comments on clothing or appearances.
- Sexually oriented entertainment at a work-related event.
- Demanding of sexual favors.
- Giving of promotions or other job favors because of saying yes or no to sex
- Physical assault
If an employee feels they have been sexually harassed, it is important that they make it clear that the advances aren’t welcomed. It is smart to keep a diary and collect any evidence regarding the harassment such as emails. When reporting the harassment, it is important to follow formal complaint procedures with the human resource department and to report the basic facts of what happened. Complaints should then be filed with the EEOC, and should be filed within 300 days of the harassment. It is important to note that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. There are still rights for employees of smaller companies, but the act was written for companies with 15 or more employees. Sexual harassment complaints are the responsibility of the employer, and the employer will need to prove that it tried to stop the harassment from happening, which is why it is important to first use formal complaint procedures before filing with the EEOC.
In the coming years, there is bound to be more protections for the many different types of people in our workforce, as well as greater protections for the LGBT community. There also needs to be updates regarding the harassment that can take place with our modern technology and social media. For now, the basics of sexual harassment are the same as in 1964, which still does provide some protection in the workplace. There are ways to improve on the protection afforded to employees who are sexually harassed, and this prevalent issue should continuously be addressed by our employers and government.