Sexual harassment is illegal when it occurs in the workplace. You might be unclear about what constitutes sexual harassment vs. when the harassment is non-sexual in nature. Sexual harassment at work is considered to be a type of unlawful discrimination, and it includes unwelcome sexual comments, behavior, or conduct about gender, sex, or sexual orientation. At Swartz Swidler, we believe that every employee needs to understand what constitutes workplace harassment and to avoid engaging in these types of behaviors at all times. When they occur, employees should also promptly report them to the appropriate human resources representative or supervisory staff.
What is sexual vs. non-sexual harassment?
Not all workplace harassment is sexual in nature. There are other types of harassment that are also illegal, including harassment that is based on religion, age, race, disability, skin color, national origin, and others. When conduct in the workplace interferes with your ability to do your job or causes the workplace environment to become hostile, it may be illegal when it is based on a protected characteristic.
Examples of sexual harassment at work
Sexual harassment at the workplace can be perpetrated by many different people, including the following:
If a person’s behavior creates a work environment that is hostile or interferes with your ability to perform your job, it is illegal. Sexual harassment can include more than unwelcome advances. It includes any physical or verbal conduct that is unwelcome and that creates a working environment that is hostile.
Some examples of workplace sexual harassment include the following:
- Sharing sexually explicit pictures or videos
- Hanging sexual posters or pictures at work
- Sending emails, notes, or letters that are suggestive
- Making sexual gestures
- Telling dirty jokes
- Whistling or cat-calling
- Making inappropriate comments about body parts, clothing, or appearance
- Unwelcome touching
- Asking questions of a sexual nature
- Offensive comments about your gender identity or sexual orientation
These are simply some examples and are not a comprehensive list. Instead, any words or actions of a sexual nature that interfere with your ability to do your job or that cause your work environment to have a hostile atmosphere are sexually harassing. Even if you are not the target of the behavior, you can still be a victim if you are affected by it.
If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, you must first file a complaint with your employer so that it has a chance to investigate what occurred and to take corrective action.
This means that you must start by following your company’s policy for how to make complaints about sexual harassment. You should also keep thorough documentation of the details of each incident of sexual harassment. If your employer fails to investigate your complaint or to do anything about it, you will need to file your charge with the EEOC within 180 days.
Examples of other types of harassment at work
Workplace harassment can also be non-sexual in nature. For example, racist comments or jokes can be harassment. If you are the victim of non-sexual harassment at your job, you should report it to your company’s human resources department. If your employer fails to do anything about it, you can file a claim with the EEOC. Some examples of non-sexual workplace harassment include the following:
- Derisive comments about a worker’s religion
- Attempts to convert workers to a different religion
- Racist jokes, slang, nicknames, or phrases
- Inappropriate comments about ethnic features or skin color
- Displays of racist posters or drawings
- Offensive gestures
- Mocking an employee’s disability
- Sharing inappropriate emails, videos, pictures, letters, or notes
- Offensive communications about ethnic, racial, or religious stereotypes
- Derogatory statements about older workers
This is not a comprehensive list of non-sexual and discriminatory harassment. It can include any action, comment, or behavior that is intimidating, insulting, threatening, or discriminatory that upsets the environment at work.
When the rules apply
The rules against illegal harassment apply to all aspects of employment, including the hiring process. When you are looking for a job, you should understand what prospective employers are allowed to ask and what they cannot ask. A potential employer should never ask you about your religion, gender, race, age, marital status, ethnicity, disability, national origin, or sexual orientation.
Talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If you have been the victim of unlawful harassment at your job, getting legal help is important. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can discuss what happened with you and give you some advice on what your next steps should be. Contact us today by filling out our contact form to schedule a consultation.