What to do if You're Being Sexually Harassed at Work

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 6,862 sexual harassment reports in 2014. Whether it's an isolated or repetitive incident reported by a man or woman, sexual harassment is a workplace issue every employee needs to understand. 

What is Sexual Harassment?

A federal law, Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act provides a definition of sexual harassment that applies to businesses that employ more than 15 people. The law states that sexual harassment is defined as:

1. Quid pro quo harassment happens when someone rewards an employee for sexual favors. An example is the supervisor who promotes an employee who sleeps with her.

2. Hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employee feels intimidated, offended or uncomfortable at work. Sexual comments or treating one sex better than the other are two examples. 

While hostile work environment harassment is more difficult to prove than quid pro quo harassment, both are illegal. If you believe you're a victim, take action. 

Document Each Incident

A single incident where a coworker calls you a sexual name probably won't get that coworker fired, but document the incident anyway. It can be used to build a case. Include details of the incident, including date, time, where it happened, who it involved, the witness's names and what happened. 

Report Harassment

Your employer should have a sexual harassment policy in place that includes a section on reporting harassment incidents. Check that policy so you know who to tell. Legally, your employer cannot retaliate against you for reporting harassment, so speak up when you experience or observe illegal sexual harassment. 

Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

As the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC will investigate your complaint. You have 180 days after the harassment incident occurs to file a complaint. Consider filing as soon as possible, though, to put a stop to harassment in your workplace. 

Sexual harassment is illegal. While your employer probably has Employment Practices Liability insurance, they should never allow harassing incidents to occur. Take action to prevent harassment in your workplace as you protect yourself and your coworkers. 

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