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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment, seen by some as a relic of past generations where men dominated the workforce, is unfortunately still an ongoing, serious issue today.

In 2008, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) conducted a study of 500 workers and found that over half of them (272) had experienced some form of sexual harassment while at work. Of the victims of harassment, 79 percent were females and 21 percent were men.

Most of the harassment reported in this study happened at the hands of coworkers (27 percent), but a troublingly high number of victims were harassed by a direct superior (17 percent). Even more troubling, 12 percent of the victims received threats that they would be fired if they did not go along with the harassment.

Another more recent study from 2015 surveyed 2,235 full-time and part-time, female employees aged 18-34 and found that one in three of the participants had experienced sexual harassment at work at some point in their career. Despite this, only 29 percent of those who had been harassed actually reported the issue. In the 2008 study, over half of the participants didn’t even know who to talk to about workplace sexual harassment.

If these studies are any indication, then there is a lot of improvement to be made in terms of how we diagnose, deal with and remedy sexual harassment in the workplace.

“But I’m just being friendly”

For some, the concept of sexual harassment is hard to grasp when they truly believe that they are simply being friendly to their coworkers. For instance, why would it be considered sexual harassment if an employee simply told a coworker that her hips looked good in her skirt? Isn’t this merely a compliment?

The key element to understand in these situations is the word “unwanted.” If “friendly” actions are clearly making a coworker uncomfortable, as would more than likely be the case when talking to someone who is known to be a shy person, then that coworker will most likely feels sexually harassed and the behavior is almost certainly unwanted.

Perhaps it was a simple misunderstanding, and perhaps the employees can talk the issue out or the victim can file a complaint with Human Resources to make the other employee aware that the behavior is unacceptable and must stop. If the harasser should continue engaging in such behavior, then they are committing textbook sexual harassment.

Harassment creates a poisonous work environment

Sexual harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as any type of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature “when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

It is important to note that sexual harassment does not hinge on age, gender or employment status nor does it require physical contact. Sometimes sexual harassment can occur without two individuals ever seeing each other in person.

Perhaps the most troubling situation for an employee to deal with is when a supervisor or boss takes advantage of their authority to sexually harass their employees. In this scenario, the employee may be scared to take action against their boss out of fear of repercussions or potentially losing their job, clearly creating an intimidating, hostile work environment.

Do not be a quiet victim of harassment

If you have been sexually harassed in any way, whether it started out as some innocent flirting that has now gotten out of control, you are getting lurid emails from a coworker, or you are being terrorized by a supervisor and are afraid to fight back, you do have legal recourse.

It is unacceptable for any person to make another person feel uncomfortable or unsafe at their shared place of employment, and anybody doing so is in direct violation of federal law. If any and all attempts to stop the harassment internally have failed, the threat or filing of a lawsuit is a much more powerful way to advertise the fact that you are not messing around anymore, and that you will be taken seriously.

At Altman & Altman LLP, we have over 40 years of experience helping people, whether it’s fighting on their behalf in regards to unruly employers or dealing with harassment in the workplace. We have the expertise to handle your case with the utmost attention and care, and we offer free consultations to look over your case.

Call us today at 617.492.3000 or toll-free at 800.481.6199. We are available 24/7.

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