When sexual harassment occurs in a workplace, the victim may not recognize it right away. It can be subtle, taking place over a long period of time until the effects are apparent. It can also be more blatant and immediately recognizable. Those that are targeted by it may be surprised, offended, or angry, and can be mentally or physically harmed. Standing up to an abuser requires courage. Understanding the best ways to handle the harassment before taking action can help victims find the strength to speak out.
When an employee’s work performance is adversely affected by the environment where they work, this may qualify as a hostile work environment. Offensive, intimidating, and aggressive behaviors by other employees contribute to this. This can also include unwelcome advances, sexually explicit comments, and disparaging remarks about one’s gender. Isolated comments or incidents, such as teasing one time, may not fall into these categories; the harassment must be more serious and frequent. Either party can be male or female.
Retaliation or Retribution
A fear of retaliation or retribution can prevent a harassment victim from coming forward. They may worry about losing their jobs and damaging their reputations. It is essential for the victim to have a strong support system. This can include co-workers, friends, family, and an experienced employment lawyer. Sexual harassment victims may not realize that it is illegal for employers to retaliate against workers that speak out about workplace sexual harassment.
Reporting the Behavior
Sexual harassment is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is considered to be sex discrimination, and Title VII applies to employees that work for companies of 15 or more workers, employment agencies, federal, state, and local government, and labor groups. It also shields them from discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color, and retaliation by employers for complaining about it.
One of the first steps toward resolution is checking the company’s employee handbook. Many will have sexual harassment policies, which may outline how to proceed. This can include writing down what happened, and when and where it took place. The more information that is provided, the better. Armed with this, the victim can speak with a supervisor and the human resources department. It also helps to share the details with trusted friends and family. Employees can also reach out to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They provide counselors and options for filing discrimination complaints.