Monday, January 7, 2008

What to do If You Are Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexual harassment in the workplace can affect anyone in any job. While not limited to women, the statistics show that only 15% of charges are filed by males. Sexual harassment destroys the work environment. The anxiety and frustration experienced by victims can impact their quality of life and the quality of their work. Although steps are being taken to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, employers and law agencies cannot always prevent it but they can help victims by responding to complaints and dealing with the violators.

The laws regarding sexual harassment remain vague since what is considered harassment by one individual may not be by another. To that effect, laws are created to protect the victim and knowing your rights can help you face harassers and employers when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.


According to the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), sexual harassment is defined as "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

Sexual harassment can be made by members of the same gender and it does not have to be from a person in a position of superiority over the victim. The harasser may be a co-worker or even a non-employee depending on the circumstances.

An individual can file a charge of harassment even if they are not the intended target. Any person who feels affected by the offensive nature of the harassment can make a charge.

Sexual harassment can take many forms. If you feel that your work, emotional or physical safety are being threatened or affected by sexual undertones in the workplace it may be considered harassment. Each case is dealt with individually and companies will have different policies for what they consider to be sexual harassment and how they deal with it.

If the company offers no method of filing a complaint, no investigation is made or no reasonable action is taken against the violator you should file a charge with the EEOC. Charges must usually be filed within 180 days of an alleged violation.


You have the legal right to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment.

You also have the right not to receive retaliation for making a charge, testifying or participating in an investigation into the charge.


A sexual harassment charge must be filed with the (EEOC) before a private lawsuit can be made. The charge can be filed at an EEOC office or through the mail. You can find information on your nearest office through their website at

Some areas have local agencies called Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) which also deal with claims and work in agreement with the EEOC.

Taking a stand against sexual harassment in the workplace is important for everyone. Helping to identify problems and expose violators will increase awareness of the situation and make the work environment safer for everyone.

How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

An employer has a legal obligation to protect employees from becoming victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The legal and moral issues can be murky but the solution is not; preventing sexual harassment is preferable to dealing with its presence.

It is in the best interest of the employer to know what the legal obligations are as well as what other steps are recommended for preventing offenses. A charge of sexual harassment will harm more than the victim - it will create a tense environment among all employees by affecting group morale.


Learning about the legal definitions of sexual harassment and implementing a clear policy about what is considered sexual harassment and how it will be dealt with is the first step to preventing it.

Staying aware of conditions in the workplace and getting feedback from employees will help in creating effective policies. That means ensuring that pornographic pictures are not permitted, sexually explicit comments and jokes are not told and guidelines about what is considered sexual harassment are posted.

Managers and employees should receive periodic training about what constitutes sexual harassment and what procedure should be followed if an individual needs to file a complaint. It should be clear to all employees that sexual harassment is a serious charge and that serious repercussions (including firing) will be administered against violators.

Dealing with complaints quickly and responsively is important. Let your employees know they have a right to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment.


The legal definitions and stipulations about sexual harassment in the workplace are listed on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website at

Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests, words and actions that affect the employment or work performance of the victim or creates an intimidating or offensive work environment.

The circumstances under which sexual harassment charges can be filed include (but is not limited to) the following:

"In cases of sexual harassment, the victim as well as the harasser may be male or female. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or firing of the victim." (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Sexual Harassment, " 1997)

Each case must be dealt with on an individual basis and no form of retaliation can be made against the employee who reports sexual harassment.

While you may or may not be legally required to train your managers and employees about sexual harassment, it is in the best interest of everyone to do so.

State laws may differ but offering education will make the issues clear to employees and teach managers how to handle complaints. If a lawsuit is made the employer can provide proof that steps were taken to prevent sexual harassment and educate employees.


Employers should take charges seriously, creating an investigation quickly and dealing with violators appropriately. The company policy about sexual harassment should be created in advance so that managers know the appropriate action to take if complaints are filed.

If the situation is not dealt with quickly the employee may take the issue to the EEOC or local agencies that enforce these laws. Having record of your policies and the actions taken will be considered in such an event.