Within the past 10 years, companies have really cracked down on sexual harassment. In fact, the definition of sexual harassment has changed significantly, covering a much broader spectrum of incidents. Regardless, this type of misconduct in the workplace is taken very seriously by companies, law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. government.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Everyone should know what constitutes sexual harassment on the job. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are two specific types of claims. The first is “quid pro quo,” and the second is “hostile work environment.”
- Quid Pro Quo – This involves a demand for sexual favor, whether implied or expressed, in exchange for something beneficial, such as a bonus, vacation time, promotion, pay increase, and so on. However, the demand can also be in exchange for not being terminated or demoted. In quid pro quo harassment, the perpetrator is a person of authority, such as a supervisor, over the victim.
- Hostile Work Environment – Hostility in the workplace also falls under the sexual harassment umbrella. This includes any conduct or speech that creates an environment considered demeaning or intimating. Unlike quid pro quo harassment, virtually anyone can be the perpetrator of a hostile work environment.
Taking the Appropriate Action
If you have experienced sexual harassment on the job, you need to report it to Human Resources (HR). Even if you feel uncomfortable or frightened by coming forward, this is the first course of action. Members of the HR department are trained and responsible for dealing with harassment situations. Because of the seriousness, an investigation will be conducted. Depending on your situation, law enforcement may be contacted.
In addition to reporting the sexual harassment to HR, you need to speak with an attorney who handles these types of cases. Keep in mind that while some attorneys deal with both sexual harassment and hostile work environment cases, some focus on just one area, so be sure to choose an attorney with the right experience and expertise.
Even if HR has already started an investigation, your attorney will begin a separate investigation. In addition to looking at the evidence, including notes, voicemail messages, texts, witnesses, surveillance, and so on, the attorney will make sure that your employer treats you fairly. While an employer cannot retaliate against you in any way, some are reluctant to conduct an exhaustive investigation or take the least aggressive approach in dealing with the problem.
Being the victim of sexual harassment while on the job can be very isolating. Friends of the perpetrator will ignore you, and your own friends may begin to distance themselves due to feeling awkward. Having an attorney in your corner certainly helps you understand that you are not alone and that the right people are fighting for you.
Keep in mind that once you report sexual harassment on the job, regardless of the type, you can be certain that your employer is making a phone call to the company attorney. Just as your employer wants protection, you need the same, which comes from knowing your rights and hiring a qualified attorney.