Sexual harassment is defined by the Society for Human Resource Management as unwelcomed sexual conduct that is persistent or offensive, creating a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it is something that should be immediately handled and resolved by a workplace’s Human Resources (HR) department.
Sexual harassment claims in the workplace are serious and should be handled appropriately and efficiently when a claim is brought to HR. Disciplinary actions, such as loss of benefits, termination, or criminal penalties, should be taken for violating sexual harassment policies.
Who is Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can happen in any industry, but there are certain populations of employees who are especially vulnerable. Low-wage workers and employees in the service industry are the most vulnerable for sexual harassment compared to all other industries. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received the most complaints from workers in these jobs in the past few years.
Those in the service industry are vulnerable to harassment because of the ineffective complaint process and lack of HR department who they can report an incident to. Due to this, any complaints that are made are usually ignored or do not result in any consequences.
Harassers use this knowledge to prey on workers who are often women or people of color because they know they will most likely get away with it. Harassers also take advantage of power to harass those who cannot fight back.
What Acts are Classified as Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can consist of the following acts:
- Generalized gender-based remarks, including making comments regarding someone’s sexual orientation or preferred gender pronouns.
- Unwanted physical contact, such as touching, grabbing, brushing up against another person, or blocking movement.
- Verbal, written, or virtual obscene comments.
- Sexual propositions in the form of letters, emails, texts, and gestures.
- Visual contact, such as staring at another’s body, gesturing, and displaying sexually explicit objects, cartoons, posters, or magazines.
- Explicit or implicit suggestions of sex by a manager or supervisor in return for an employment-related action, such as hiring, compensation, or promotion.
- Suggesting that failing to provide sexual favors would result in employment consequences.
- Continuing to behave in a sexual manner after objection has been raised.
Why Do Victims Fail to Report Harassment?
The problem that many employees face is that they do not trust HR to respond correctly to a sexual harassment claim, despite their responsibility to create a safe work environment. Workers should feel comfortable going to HR with any concerns or complaints they have, especially if an assault has occurred.
HR has a reputation of being more interested in protecting the company rather than protecting the victim. For this reason, employees have a very hard time trusting their HR department with alerting them of sexual harassment.
According to a spring 2020 report by Workhuman, only 47 percent of women and 66 percent of men report sexual harassment to HR. HR should be a department that employees trust with problems, and all employees should feel comfortable with reporting sexual harassment cases.
Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has encouraged those who have been harassed in the workplace to come forward with their cases. Despite the publicity of the movement, there has not been much progress in consequences for harassers. The #MeToo movement continues to work hard to help those who have been victims of sexual assault in the workplace.
What Can Employees Do After Harassment Occurs?
Employers should strive to create work cultures where employees know how to report sexual harassment and feel comfortable going to HR with their concerns. There are a few steps that employees should take if they have experienced sexual harassment.
If someone was sexually harassed at work, they must file a formal complaint. It can be difficult to do this because of fears of repercussions or wrongful termination, but it is a necessary step in ensuring that the harasser faces consequences. Despite the concerns that employees have with HR, it is important to file formal complaints to make them aware of what is going on. If a company has a specific procedure for handling sexual harassment claims, employees should follow the process down to every little detail.
If a company does not have a formal complaint process, start by reporting the harassment to an immediate supervisor. If the harasser is a supervisor, report the incident to the supervisor’s manager.
What Information Should be Included in a Report?
In addition to reporting the incident, it is important to make sure that one keeps thorough documentation to give to HR and keep all information confidential. Specific helpful information to have includes:
- Name of the accused.
- Full description of the incident, including the date, time, and location.
- Names of any potential witnesses.
- How the incident affected one’s job and mental wellbeing.
- Any other information that one believes is important.
Also, keep all digital evidence, like texts or emails, to include in an HR complaint. The more thorough and detailed the evidence is, the better.
How Can HR Build Trust Among Employees?
HR will only be successful if they can build trust among all employees in the company. To do this, HR should always keep the line of communication open and encourage employees to come to them with any problems they have. HR should establish opportunities and ways for employees to share their concerns in a safe environment. Examples include:
- Speaking to employees outside of the office or in a private location. Employees will be less concerned with other employees hearing their concerns if they are in a private place.
- Creating an employee hotline where they can call and report harassing behaviors and situations.
- Provide employees with an online outlet where they can email anonymously.
- Publicly post all state employment discrimination and harassment policies in a prominent location in the workplace.
- Ensure that employees know that retaliation in the workplace is prohibited, and all employees need to feel free to report abuse without the fear of repercussions.
HR departments should also perform frequent check-ins with employees to show their respect and concern for workers. It is important to create a humane workplace, an environment where workers are allowed to make mistakes and feel empathy for others.
HR departments can also provide certain policies, including:
- One that clearly states that sexual harassment is not tolerated and all reports will be investigated. This policy should also state the ways employees can report the harassment.
- One that requires all employees to attend training that defines what sexual harassment is and how to recognize it.
What if My Company Does Not Take Sexual Harassment Seriously?
If a company does not take sexual harassment seriously, they cultivate a negative work environment. There is no reason for every harassment allegation to not be investigated and taken seriously. This comes down to the respect that HR has for their employees. All companies should make their workers feel safe and secure. If a company fails to address sexual harassment claims, it is time to speak to a lawyer.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Victims Sexually Harassed at Work
If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, contact one of our Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We understand the seriousness of these kinds of cases and will work hard to ensure that your rights are protected. Our experienced legal team will thoroughly review your case and come up with the best plan of action. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.