The problem of workplace sexual harassment may have lessened somewhat from the #MeToo Movement, but the reality is that it may never disappear completely. When the offending party is a boss, an employee can feel trapped by not knowing what to do and a fear of losing their job. Supervisors and managers hold positions of power over subordinates and can use this to make others’ lives much more difficult. Employees worry that speaking up will lead to demotions, firings, retaliation, and other further mistreatment, and the unacceptable behavior can persist and escalate faster than they might think.
How is Workplace Sexual Harassment Defined?
Sexual harassment comes in different forms, and many times these unwelcome behaviors are passed off as obnoxious jokes or harmless flirting. A boss can embarrass or humiliate another worker by making crude remarks or might send pornographic emails or repeatedly touch the employee. Sexual harassment is also common at work parties and on business trips. Not only does this lead to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and stress, but also it can lower the victim’s self-esteem and make them doubt their own worth. Sexual harassment can make it exceedingly difficult to show up at work every day and to carry out one’s responsibilities.
Illegal sexual harassment falls into two categories: quid pro quo and hostile work environments. Quid pro can be overt or subtle and can also be seen as discrimination. Following are a few examples of what this can look like in workplaces:
- An employee experiences unwanted, unwelcome sexual harassment, such as a request for sexual favors or sexual advances.
- The harasser is an agent of the employer or a supervisor.
- Agreeing or not objecting to the harassment is a condition for getting job benefits.
- The employee was harmed by the harassment.
How does a hostile work environment differ from this? This is when:
- The employee experiences unwanted harassment based on sex.
- The harassment is severe enough to alter the employee’s conditions of employment.
Sometimes these two classifications can overlap. Examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment might include a boss refusing an assistant a promotion unless that assistant has sex with him or her, or firing an employee who will not engage in sexual activities with the boss. Hostile work environments do not necessarily include this so-called something-for-something aspect and could include repeated, persistent behaviors such as pinching, unwelcome sexual comments, or raunchy gestures.
What Should I Do about the Sexual Harassment?
The immediate concern is to get the sexual harassment to stop, so speaking with the boss directly might help. It is important to stay as calm as possible throughout the conversation, without making any strong private or public accusations. The boss may not realize how offensive his or her actions are and may be open to what the employee has to say. It may even be possible to come up with ways to improve the working environment.
Should this not work out as hoped, the employee can refer to the company’s manual; this might have a specified sexual harassment policy. It may include the process for reporting the harassment, including the right person to contact. The boss’s supervisor or the Human Resources Department can be informed of the problem, and they may be more than willing to help. Some companies have policies that prohibit sexual harassment, but unless the harassment actually violates civil rights laws, it may not be deemed as illegal.
In the meantime, the employee can gather proof of the boss’s behavior by recording every incident, because it is not always easy to prove that the harassment happened. The evidence should include dates, locations, times, names of any witness, and specific details about each occurrence. This information should not be kept at work where others can find it, though. It can be initially recorded at the office but should then be taken to the employee’s home for safekeeping.
In many cases, the harassment will continue or worsen and cannot be ignored. If the employee works through a union, the harassment can be reported to a union representative and formal grievance may be filed. There is also the option of filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the state’s fair employment agency if the harassment is considered to be discrimination.
What if My Boss is a Woman?
Several years ago, a female congressional candidate who worked for a private company was the target of a #MeToo sexual harassment scandal. A male subordinate employee claimed that the candidate had sexually harassed him and added that she had also retaliated against him after he rejected her advances. This allegedly happened on a business trip, and afterward he received poor performance reviews and was fired. He contacted the EEOC, which carried out an investigation. They were not able to conclude if Title VII was violated, but they gave the employee the right to sue. Although the candidate’s company was named as the party in the federal lawsuit, the candidate denied the allegations and the company ended up settling with the harassed employee.
Though these kinds of complaints are less common than sexual harassment by male bosses, they are still illegal according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Male employees are less likely to confront their bosses, though. Societal norms can make it even more humiliating for men to object to sexual attention publicly, especially when the abuser is a superior. Again, sexual harassment is still prevalent in workplaces, and employees of all genders are vulnerable to unwelcome sexual harassment from bosses because of the power imbalance. All employees are protected equally by the law and have just as much right to speak out and to complain through the proper channels.
Should I File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
This is a sound choice for some employees, but there are applicable statutes of limitations that are governed by federal laws, state laws, and the kind of harassment experienced. The EEOC stipulates that claims must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination or sexual harassment, but in some situations this can be extended to 300 days.
If the sexual harassment takes a physical turn, it can then become a criminal offense. Some states consider unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature to be an assault charge, even if it is something such as persistently touching another employee’s back. It does not have to be violent or aggressive to fall into this category, but if it is, the charges could become even more serious.
In order to file a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, the employee needs to file that administrative charge with the EEOC or state agency. Certain states also require these employees to file administrative complaints with their local fair employment offices as well. If these procedures are not followed, it is likely that the lawsuit will end up being thrown out. After a charge is filed, the EEOC or other agency notifies the company and may investigate, ask for mediation, dismiss the charge, or take another action. Sometimes, the agency will file a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf, but this rarely happens. It is more likely that they would issue the employee a right to sue letter instead. If it has not been done already, now is the time for the employee to contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Empower Sexually Harassed Employees with Sound Legal Guidance
No one deserves to be sexually harassed, whether it be at home, out in public, or by an abusive boss. If you have reached out to the proper channels without success, now is the time to contact the compassionate, skilled Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will help you with whatever criminal or civil remedies you wish to pursue. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.