You may be surprised to now that sexual harassment is extremely common in the workplace. The majority of harassment claims that are brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are sex-based. Sexual harassment is most commonly associated with some sort of physical advance that is sexual in nature, but it is important to know that sexual harassment can come in many different forms. Sexual harassment can also be verbal in nature.
Sexual harassment is illegal in all 50 states under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What is Verbal Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as the continued unlawful harassment of an individual based on their sex.
According to the EEOC, harassment can include any of the following situations:
- unwelcome sexual advances
- requests for sexual favors
- other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
- offensive remarks about a person’s sex
As you can see, the EEOC includes verbal conduct in it’s definition of harassment. Harassment is illegal when it is so continuous or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.
Verbal sexual harassment is just as serious as sexual harassment. Specifically, verbal sexual harassment is anything that sexual harassment is, but verbal. Someone who regularly makes jokes around the office may have a greater tendency to cross the line. This continued inappropriate behavior can be and should be reported as verbal sexual harassment. Certain behaviors are not only inappropriate and unwelcome, but they also contribute to a hostile work environment.
A common misconception of verbal sexual harassment is that only females are victims. A victim can be male of female. The harasser can be male or female. In fact, the victim and harasser can even be of the same sex. Sexual harassment does not discriminate.
Examples of Verbal Sexual Harassment
Here are some common examples of verbal sexual harassment:
- Spreading stories and rumors about a coworker that are sexual in nature
- Texting your coworker sexual content
- Calling a coworker sexually-suggestive names, such as baby, sexy, fine, etc.
- Whistling at a coworker as they walk by
- Making sexual statements to a coworker
- Complementing a coworker on their looks in a sexually-suggestive manner
- Joking with a coworker using a sexual context
- Asking a coworker about their sexual activities or fantasies
- Making kissing noises at a coworker
This is not an exhaustive list of verbal sexual harassment in the workplace, but these are some common situations to be aware of. In general, sexual harassment is not just one isolated incident, but continued remarks or jokes can easily turn into sexual harassment when it creates a harmful, hostile work environment.
How to document sexual harassment?
It is important to document any instances of sexual harassment by your harasser. Write down as much detailed information as you can remember. Be sure to document the following:
- What was said
- Who was involved – any witnesses
- Where it occurred
- What time and date it occurred
- Any history of repeated instances
If your workplace has any sort of sexual harassment policy in place, be sure to acquire all of the information needed to support your claim in full.
How to stop sexual harassment in its tracks?
There are some things that you can do to help stop sexual harassment in the workplace. Some people may actually be unaware that they are harassing someone. Although it may be emotionally challenging, you should confront your harasser and let them know that their behavior makes you feel uncomfortable. This is a good way to try and resolve the issue before taking further steps. In some cases, confrontation helps stop sexual harassment.
Not only is it important to confront your harasser for your own sake, but it is also important to confront your harasser before bringing legal action. You do not want your harasser on the stand truthfully telling the judge that they had no idea that you felt uncomfortable or that they were encouraged by you because you smiled at their comment or joke.
What to do if you are a victim of verbal sexual harassment?
Report verbal sexual harassment
If someone continues to harass you, it is extremely important that you take measures to report the harassment to a superior. If the harassment is not resolved at that level, you may have to seek legal action.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of sexual harassment claims go unreported. Many victims fear retaliation from their employer or hostility in the workplace and do not want to suffer an adverse employment action by their employer as a result. It is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint on the grounds of verbal harassment. Not reporting sexual harassment is only condoning the behavior. If you are fired for reporting sexual harassment, contact an attorney immediately!
File a claim with the EEOC
If reporting your situation to a superior did not resolve the issue, you may be able to file a claim with the EEOC under Title VIIif your employer employs more than 15 employees. In fact, it is required to first file a charge with the EEOC before bringing a federal lawsuit against your harasser or employer. However, you may have a better outcome initiating a legal action under local law, but an experienced attorney can help you navigate the best option.
Damages for your claim
You may be able to seek remedy for verbal sexual harassment, including:
- hiring or job reinstatement
- discipline for the harasser
- back or front pay
- compensatory damages
- remedial measures in the workplace
If you feel that you have been sexually harassed at work, you do not have to endure it. Our experienced counsel at Swartz Swidler, LLC, can guide you through the process of filing a claim with the EEOC and advise you on your legal recourse. Fill out the contact form today!