Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under federal and state law. However, this type of conduct in the workplace is a prevalent problem. According to a study conducted by the EEOC in 2016, approximately 75% of people who experience workplace harassment do not tell their supervisors or employers.
When surveyed anonymously, almost 60% of women reported they had been sexually harassed at work in the past. One reason why employees might not report workplace sexual harassment to their employers is because of a fear of retaliation. According to a report in Vox, 75% of women who complained about workplace sexual harassment reported that they were retaliated against by their employers. In addition to retaliation, some employees do not report sexual harassment because they are unclear when inappropriate behavior crosses the line and becomes illegal sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can be flagrant or more subtle. Today, it tends to be subtler than in the past. Instead of your boss or a co-worker propositioning you for sexual acts or slapping your rear when you walk past, you might instead receive suggestive messages or texts after work hours or be invited to meetings that turn into dates without you wanting them to. Sexual harassment in the workplace today can happen through social media, emails, or other venues outside of work.
Sexual harassment can include many different behaviors ranging from obscene or questionable comments to assaults. They can also include bullying, coercion, or quid pro quo offers of benefits in exchange for performing sexual acts. Here is some information from the sexual harassment lawyers in New Jersey at Swartz Swidler to help you understand what counts as sexual harassment in the workplace.
How is sexual harassment defined?
Sexual harassment includes many different types of behaviors, including unwelcome advances, unwanted touching, obscene jokes or comments, offers of benefits in exchange for sexual acts, or threats of adverse consequences for refusing advances. It can include both physical and verbal conduct. The conduct must be severe or pervasive to qualify as sexual harassment. Single incidents that are serious, including sexual assault, can meet the qualification as sexual harassment. Pervasive conduct can be more subtle. However, if it is frequent and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, it might be illegal sexual harassment.
What doesn’t count as sexual harassment?
Harassment based on other factors might be illegal but may not be sexual harassment. For example, harassment targeted at someone based on his or her race would be racial harassment instead of sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also states that isolated and minor comments or awkward interactions might not be serious enough to warrant sexual harassment charges when they are not a part of a pattern of conduct.
Two types of sexual harassment
There are two primary forms of sexual harassment, including quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment harassment. It is important to understand the differences between both types of unlawful workplace sexual harassment.
What is quid pro quo sexual harassment?
Quid pro quo translates as this for that. In the context of workplace sexual harassment, quid pro quo harassment occurs when your employer offers benefits to you in exchange for your engaging in sexual acts. This can include conditioning raises, promotions, projects, or transfers in return for performing sexual favors. It can also include threatening negative consequences if you refuse to give in to your supervisor’s unwelcome sexual advances.
Others can also be a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment other than the employee who is asked for sexual favors. For example, if your boss offered a promotion to your co-worker based on his or her giving in to your boss’s sexual advances, you could be the victim when you were passed over for the promotion. Even when a worker gives in to a supervisor’s unwelcome sexual advances to avoid negative job consequences or to receive job benefits, he or she might also file a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim.
What is hostile work environment harassment?
Hostile work environment harassment can be more difficult to prove since so many different types of inappropriate conduct can be involved. The pervasiveness of sexual harassment might be subtle. When each incident is considered by itself, it might not seem serious. However, when taking all of the separate incidents together as a whole, the frequency of the actions may be enough to create a hostile work environment.
Some examples of inappropriate behaviors that might add together to form a hostile work environment include the following:
- Talking about members of your gender in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
- Displaying pornographic memes, pictures, or images
- Sending obscene jokes or images via text messages or emails
- Asking questions about your sex life
- Repeatedly asking you out after you have turned the person down
- Unwanted touching
- Trying to look down your shirt or staring at your chest
- Making sexual comments or jokes
- Frequently talking about sex
- Constantly telling you about the harasser’s sex life
- Repeatedly giving you unwanted gifts of a romantic or sexual nature
This list is not exhaustive. Many different types of behaviors can create a hostile work environment when they occur often enough.
Talk to a New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer
If you are unsure whether or not someone’s inappropriate behavior at your work amounts to illegal sexual harassment, you should talk to an experienced attorney at the law firm of Swartz Swidler. We can evaluate the situation and determine whether or not your claim has legal merits. If we believe you have grounds to file a complaint, we can help you gather evidence to support your claim and file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the EEOC gives you leave to file a lawsuit, we might help by filing a formal civil complaint in the appropriate court. Call us today for a confidential and free case evaluation at (856) 685-7420.