Sexual harassment at the workplace goes against federal laws, employment laws, and most workplace policies. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally protects employees from harassment at work based on their sex or sexual orientation. Most times, these cases go unreported due to fear of retaliation.
However, it may also be due to a lack of understanding on what exactly constitutes sexual harassment and how to report the issue once they identify it. A Bellevue sexual harassment attorney can help you decide if you have a case and walk you through the process of filing a complaint and seeking retribution.
Defining Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination and refers to any form of inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances, remarks, or physical contact that cause humiliation or offense to the target. Some common forms of sexual harassment include asking for sexual favors at work, inappropriate physical contact, and sexual violence.
Sexually charged comments, and demeaning remarks based on a gender stereotype are also forms of sexual harassment. According to the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the following two types of sexual harassment are illegal.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment: This refers to a situation where your supervisor asks you for sexual favors with a threat of putting your job on the line. For example, your supervisor can ask you to sleep with them for a promotion or threaten to fire you if you don’t accept their advances.
Hostile work environment: This occurs when sexual harassment is frequent, pervasive, and affects your ability to work due to the abusive working environment. The inappropriate conduct must also be offensive to any reasonable person.
While the law may not prohibit simple teasing, whether the remarks become harassment will depend on frequency and context. Covert forms may also qualify as sexual harassment if they happen frequently or are severe enough to make you uncomfortable and disrupt your work. Examples include:
- Repeated comments about your attractiveness
- Talking about personal sex life in front of other employees
- Sending nude images or videos in the workplace
- Leaving sexual or romantic gifts
- Starting sexual rumors about an employee
Note that sexual harassment can come from both males and females. It could be from your supervisor, manager, employer, coworker, and even clients.
What to Do if a Coworker is Sexually Harassing You
If you are a victim of sexual harassment from a coworker, below are various ways to handle the matter and ensure that it stops.
1. Make It Clear That You Don’t Welcome or Tolerate the Conduct
Actions or behaviors qualify as harassment when they are unwelcome. For obnoxious or annoying behaviors that are not necessarily predatory, let your coworker know that what they are doing is inappropriate, offensive, and unwanted. However, only do this if you feel safe. If your coworker’s actions are physical, you should prioritize your safety by going to a manager or human resources rather than confronting them directly.
2. Always Maintain Records of the Incidents
Even before you decide what to do about the harassment, keep a record of the incidents. Write down the dates and your coworker’s exact actions or comments. Keep the records safe outside the office to prevent your harasser from accessing them and destroying the evidence. Recording the incidences allows you to explain your allegations accurately when you decide to report the matter.
3. Report the Sexual Harassment to Your Manager or HR
Every company has a policy or guideline for reporting employment issues in the workplace, including sexual harassment. Reporting the matter to human resources or a manager allows for investigation and subsequent action. Note that your employer won’t be liable for the harassment if you decide to file a claim against them when they did not know the situation. However, if your harasser is the channel you need to report to, you should consider legal advice.
4. Consult a Lawyer
Consulting an employment law attorney will help you make informed decisions regarding your case. If the harassment persists despite reporting to your management, you may need to take further action like filing a sexual harassment complaint with the relevant authorities. If you are unsure whether the experience counts as sexual harassment, a consultation with an employment lawyer can help you clear the air.
5. Take Legal Action
You can consider legal action against your coworker, as well as your employer. Your employer will be liable for creating a hostile workplace by failing to address the issue.
How to File a Sexual Harassment Claim
In the state of Washington, you can file for sexual harassment under federal law with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOCC) within 300 days after the incident, which is more time than the usual 180 days in most states. If you decide to file a claim under state law, you have 180 days from the most recent harassment to do so with the local human rights commission.
Ensure that you have all the proof you need for your case, such as your job description, your letter of termination in case of wrongful termination due to the harassment, and records of the incidents. A sexual harassment lawyer will give you the legal advice you need to go through the process and guide you through filing a sexual harassment claim within the required time limits. They will also offer legal representation if you decide to file a lawsuit.
Hire a Sexual Harassment Discrimination Lawyer in Bellevue
If you experience sexual harassment and sexual orientation discrimination in Washington, HKM Employment Attorneys can help. Our law firm in Bellevue has legal professionals with years of experience in handling employment issues including employment discrimination and sexual harassment. Visit our Bellevue offices for a consultation with a sexual harassment attorney and let us help you handle your legal issues.