In the United States, employers are required by law to provide a safe workplace for their employees. However, the largest survey undertaken of its kind revealed that two industries are falling behind the rest in terms of preventing sexual harassment. Entertainment is one industry that has been talked about a lot recently, with the growth of the Me Too movement, but the other industry rampant with sexual harassment may not be as predictable.
The survey that was conducted by Opportunity Now found that 59 percent of women between 28 to 40 years old who are employed in the construction industry have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career. That means that a women interested in working in construction is more likely than not to be victimized by unwanted comments, jokes, touching, or propositions of a sexual nature.
Can anything be done to reduce this problem and make the construction site a safe and protected space for all employees? With clear anti-harassment policies, employee training initiatives, and strict enforcement, employers can not only protect their valued workers, but they can also avoid costly and damaging litigation.
What is Deemed as Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is touching someone in a sexual way, asking them for sexual favors, or commenting on their appearance in a sexual manner. The definition of sexual harassment in the eyes of the law is much more extensive. All of the following acts may constitute sexual harassment at work:
- Inappropriate touching.
- Leering or inappropriate staring in a sexual way.
- Displaying sexual suggestive photographs and signs.
- Mocking someone based on their sexual orientation/gender.
- Sending sexual texts, emails, or notes.
- Telling sexual jokes or stories.
- Asking someone for sexual favors in return for benefits at work.
It is important to note that one incidence may not be considered as harassment. It usually involves especially serious or persistent behaviors that make another person feel uncomfortable and unable to perform their job. When in doubt, it is always helpful to discuss one’s concerns with an experienced employment lawyer. They can assess the problem and recommend the next best step to take.
Why is Sexual Harassment Prevalent in the Construction Industry?
While construction is a male-dominated industry, women are slowly finding their place. Comprising roughly around 10 percent of workers in the industry, women are still underrepresented in construction. That makes them more likely to be targets of sexual harassment.
The predominately male environment can set the tone for victimization of female employees. Some men may feel threatened by women on the jobsite and use sexual harassment as a means of dominating them. Some have not been trained to understand what it means to sexually harass another worker, and they do not know it is illegal.
On the other side, women in construction may be less likely to speak out against harassment because they do not want to be perceived as weak. They may fear retaliation for reporting harassment in an industry where they may only have few colleagues they can trust.
All of these factors create a perfect storm where sexual harassment can persist. For circumstances to change and the industry to evolve and encourage diversity, victims need to fight this demoralizing and dangerous form of employment discrimination.
Men are Not Always the Harassers in Construction
It is critical to note that sexual harassment does not have to be between a man as the perpetrator and a woman as the victim. People of all genders and sexual orientations can be in both roles. A female can victimize a man, and same-sex harassment is possible as well.
Additionally, it is not always a boss or manager that harasses a subordinate. One colleague can harass another. Even customers and clients can be the harassers.
What Should I Do if I am Being Sexually Harassed?
Reporting sexual harassment is the key to stopping it in construction and every industry. Some important steps for stopping sexual harassment are listed below.
Tell the Offender to Stop
Anyone on the receiving end of uncomfortable jokes, suggestions, or physical touching should start by telling the offender to stop. In a clear and firm tone, tell the individual that their behavior is not okay and that they should stop. If not, let them know further actions will be taken.
Notify the Employer
In some cases, the victim may not feel safe confronting the harasser. Then, they should move on and report the abuse to their employer. Every employer has their own procedures for reporting all forms of job discrimination. Check the job agreement or employee handbook for these guidelines.
It is always best to file a written report and keep a copy for one’s records. Employers are required to act, and if they do not, it is important to start building a paper trail in case legal action is necessary. Allow the employer to follow established protocols in addressing sexual harassment. If they fail to do so in a timely manner or the behavior continues, it is time to contact a lawyer and file a complaint with the state.
Schedule a Legal Consultation
When an employer knows about sexual harassment among construction workers but looks the other way, that is a green light for abusers to keep going. Some construction companies and contractors do not take these matters seriously until they hear from the state or a lawyer.
Even if a construction worker is not ready to sue, it is always helpful to meet with a lawyer to learn more about local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws and how they protect them. They can also guide their client through the next stage of the process.
File a Formal Complaint
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits gender-related job discrimination. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on gender. In this state, victims should report harassment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) or the local branch of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Depending upon the charge, both parties may agree to mediation or settlement. In some cases, a hearing is required. This is like a traditional court proceeding, where evidence is shown and witnesses are called. If discrimination is found, a remedy is enacted. If not, the case is dismissed, and the charging party has the right to sue. If the charging party receives a Right to Sue notice, they have 90 days to file a lawsuit.
The process is fairly similar from state to state. A victim should ask a lawyer or look online to find the appropriate agency in the state where the construction company operates. Since every case is different and much depends on the variables involved, it is always best to consult with a lawyer to recommend the best course of action and assist with filing a formal sexual harassment complaint.
Retaliation is Unlawful
In a traditionally male-dominated industry like construction, women may let actions and behaviors slide because they feel outnumbered or they are scared. The EEOC prohibits retaliation against someone who:
- Files or is a witness to an EEOC charge or investigation.
- Speaks with a manager about discrimination or harassment.
- Resists sexual advances or steps in to protect others.
- Refuses to follow orders that would result in employment discrimination.
Possible Remedies in a Construction Sexual Harassment Claim
Many different forms of relief are possible for employment discrimination. These remedies may be granted during the mediation process, as a result of a hearing, or through litigation. They are a way to compensate the victim for the various ways their career was harmed by offensive and illegal sexual harassment.
- Front and back pay
- Job reinstatement
- A promotion
- Lawyer fees
- Expert witness fees
- Court costs
- Damages for lost income, mental anguish, and inconvenience
All industries should be free of unwelcome sexual comments, suggestions, and touching. Every employee has the right to a safe workplace. Any worker who is victimized by sexual harassment can take back their power, speak out, and hold abusers and negligent employers accountable.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Construction Workers Facing Discrimination
Sexual harassment takes many different forms, but they are all demoralizing and illegal. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. are not afraid to protect discriminated and harassed workers against large companies. Call us at 215-569-1999 or complete our online form for a free consultation today. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.