The stereotypical image of sexual harassment is of wealthy businessmen with high-ranking positions in their companies flirting with young women who work for them, pressuring them into unwanted romantic relationships, or even sexually assaulting them. Sexual harassment is not always so blatant that everyone in your workplace notices it, though. Neither the power imbalance nor the sexual advances need to be as obvious as in the above example for it to count as sexual harassment. Not everyone who sexually harasses coworkers is a man, and not all victims of sexual harassment are women. Federal and state laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have witnessed sexual harassment in your place of employment, whether it is targeting you or someone else, contact the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is a Form of Employment Discrimination
Federal law protects workers and job seekers from employment discrimination. The protected categories based on which it is against the law to discriminate against employees and job candidates include race, religion, sex, gender, age, marital status, pregnancy, age, and disability. Laws and court decisions issued over the past several decades have indicated that sex and gender discrimination includes discrimination based on chromosomal sex, gender identity, gender presentation, and sexual orientation. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions issued recently illustrate the various manifestations of gender discrimination. In one case, a transgender woman notified her employer that, as a prerequisite for beginning hormone treatment, her doctors were requiring her to begin dressing as a woman and using her feminine first name at work; her employer promptly fired her, and the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled in her favor. In the other case, the plaintiff was a woman who was married to a man, had children, and worked in the male-dominated financial sector. Despite her positive reception by clients, her supervisors gave her negative performance reviews and denied her several opportunities for promotion; they criticized her speech mannerisms and personal appearance, saying that she was unladylike and needed to go to charm school. She sued her employer for gender discrimination, and the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
Harassment, also known as hostile work environment, is a legally recognized form of employment discrimination. If you can show that people in your workplace would not be subjecting you to the same treatment if your gender or sexual orientation were different, then you have grounds for a sexual harassment claim.
Are People in Your Workplace Harassing You, or are You Just Being Oversensitive?
Almost any kind of behavior related to your gender that you receive in the workplace is sexual harassment if it makes you uncomfortable. What counts as offensive behavior is a subjective matter, to some extent, but if the behavior bothers you enough that it makes it difficult to do your job, then you have the right to tell the person doing it to stop, and if they do not, you have the right to complain to decision-makers in the company about it. These are some examples of workplace behaviors that count as sexual harassment if they are persistent enough that they interfere with your ability to do your job:
- Making comments of any sort about your physical appearance (for example, telling you that your clothes are unflattering, that you should lose weight, or that you look sexy)
- Asking you to socialize one-on-one outside of work
- Giving you work assignments that put you in close contact with a supervisor who flirts with you
- Unwanted touching or sexually suggestive comments or jokes
- Asking personal questions about your dating life or romantic relationship, beyond the usual small talk that one would expect in a work environment
- Showing you sexually suggestive or explicit images or Internet content
As shown in the examples above, sexual harassment does not always include physical contact.
What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
Perhaps the worst kind of sexual harassment, besides the kinds that involve physical assault or stalking, is quid pro quo harassment. This is where an employer or work supervisor threatens to take adverse action against you unless you accept their sexual advances. For example, your supervisor might threaten to fire you or deny you a promotion unless you agree to go on a one-on-one business trip with him or be his girlfriend. It is also quid pro quo sexual harassment if your employer threatens to deny you a promotion unless you remove a picture of your wedding to your same-sex-spouse from the wall of your office. If you experience quid pro quo sexual harassment, you should definitely contact a lawyer.
What to Do if Someone in Your Workplace is Harassing You
If the person harassing you is not your direct supervisor or someone who has the authority to terminate your employment, you should first talk to the person directly, unless you have reasonable fear that they will physically harm you. If they do not stop their behavior after you tell them that it bothers you, talk to your supervisor, and then to human resources, if appropriate. If the person harassing you has a supervisory position and can make decisions about your employment, human resources should be your first point of contact. In either case, it is a good idea to consult with the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Lawyers LLP even before you speak up at work about the harassment.
The Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Lawyers LLP can help you file a formal complaint about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in your workplace, even if the harassment did not involve physical touching or termination of employment. If you are a federal employee, you may need to start by filing a pre-complaint notice with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
An employment discrimination lawyer can help you protect yourself against sexual harassment and gender discrimination at your place of employment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.