No person should be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.
The harasser can be anyone in the workplace, even a non-employee, such as customers or vendors. Furthermore, any employee who is affected by the harassment or hostile work environment can pursue a legal claim, even if they are not the primary target of the harassment.
What constitutes sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Some examples of sexual harassment include unwelcome sexual advances and touching, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
The law does not prohibit simple teasing, minor flirtation, petty jokes, or isolated incidents, such as a request for a date or a few uncomfortable looks. Instead, the conduct must be persistent or severe enough that it directly or indirectly affects your employment status or work performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature and can also include offensive conduct related to a person’s gender, such as slurs or derogatory statements about someone’s gender.
It is important to note that both men and women can be targets of sexual harassment and both the victim and the offender can be of the same gender.
Furthermore, it is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for making a complaint or opposing employment practices that discriminate based on gender or for filing a discrimination charge.
When is your employer liable for harassment?
Your employer is automatically liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, suspension, or failure to promote or hire you. If the sexual harassment results in a hostile work environment, your employer can avoid liability if it can prove that it took reasonable steps to prevent and correct the offensive conduct and that you unreasonably failed to take any preventative measures, such as reporting the offensive conduct to your employer.
Furthermore, in some situations, your employer will also be liable for sexual harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control, such as independent contractors, vendors, or customers on the premises.
If your employer knew or should have known about the sexual harassment and failed to take steps to correct the conduct, then your employer will be liable. Accordingly, many employers have anti-sexual harassment policies and provide employees with a procedure for reporting sexual harassment.
What should you do?
If you feel safe to do so, you may tell the offender directly that their conduct is unwelcome and ask them to stop. At the very least, it is important to not give the impression that you do not mind the sexual harassment—for example, by laughing it off, ignoring it, or accepting it.
Also, check your employer’s handbook or policy guidelines to determine the proper procedure for reporting the sexual harassment. Usually, you are required to report any issues to a supervisor, management, or human resources. You should put your employer on notice that the harassment is taking place, so that your employer can take the necessary steps to address and try to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, despite laws that protect employees from retaliation, your employer may still take a negative employment action against you for reporting the sexual harassment.
For this reason, is a good idea to keep a personal record of each incident of sexual harassment with the date and a summary of the conduct that took place. If you have any documents, such as emails, photos, videos, or texts, make sure to print or save them somewhere you can access them outside of your work computer or work phone. Also, if you are able, you may consider recording conversations—but make sure to check your state’s laws on making recordings. Georgia is a one-party consent state, which means you may record audio or take a video of any conversation if you are a party to the conversation and without obtaining permission or letting the other participants know. There are other steps you can take to protect yourself. But you do not have to do it alone. We are here for you.
Because your work matters.