The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gets many thousands of complaints each year about discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and several other protected characteristics. The biggest group of complaints it receives involve retaliation, where an employer punishes an employee for exercising a legal right, sometimes by terminating the employee’s job. Retaliation complaints account for slightly over half the complaints filed with the EEOC each year. Why are there not more sexual harassment complaints? It is not because there is less sexual harassment in workplaces in Indiana and throughout the United States. It is because workplaces where sexual harassment is widespread also tend to be places where supervisors and decision-makers discourage employees who have experienced sexual harassment from speaking out against it; some of them even use intimidation to keep employees quiet who have witnessed sexual harassment in their workplace or who have been the target of it themselves. Furthermore, some of the retaliation complaints filed with the EEOC are by employees whose employers retaliated against them when they complained about sexual harassment or participated in an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment in their workplace. If you are considered about sexual harassment in your workplace or if things only got worse after you complained about the sexual harassment you were witnessing, contact the Indianapolis workplace sexual harassment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The Little Things Can Add Up to Harassment
If you have been researching employment law, you have probably found a lot of information about what to do in the case of an isolated incident of an employer mistreating an employee, such as by unfairly terminating the employee’s job, denying the employee a promotion, or retaliating against the employee (by firing them, denying them a promotion, or similar) after the employee filed a discrimination complaint. You might still be looking for answers about harassment because it does not usually take the form of one conversation or one email. Harassment tends to be a lot of little things that, by themselves, constitute rude or unpleasant behavior, but when they happen frequently at work, they interfere with your ability to do your job efficiently or otherwise cause you problems at work.
Even though training videos about workplace harassment make it seem like sexual harassment always involves touching, or that it always involves an older man in a decision-making position and a younger woman in a financially vulnerable position, there are actually many different manifestations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Any of the following actions count as sexual harassment if people in your workplace do them with the knowledge that they will make you uncomfortable:
- Sending group emails, or emails directly to you, containing derogatory remarks about the gender or sexual orientation with which you identify
- Coworkers posting offensive signs, comic strips, or images in their own cubicles or in common areas in the workplace (such as the photocopy room or employee lunchroom)
- Coworkers wearing T-shirts or hats with offensive language or offensive images
- Unwanted touching
- Coworkers or supervisors asking you intrusive personal questions
- Coworkers using offensive language or making derogatory comments about your gender when talking to you or when talking to other coworkers in your presence
- Multiple unwanted invitations to go on a date with a coworker or supervisor or to socialize one-on-one outside of work
- Streaming sexually explicit or otherwise offensive and work-inappropriate audio or video content in your presence
- Making comments about your physical appearance
You can imagine how unpleasant it would be if one or more people at your work repeatedly engaged in just one of these behaviors. When multiple types of harassment are involved, it can make the workplace almost unbearable. The good news is that legal remedies are available to workers who experience sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment and Workplace Discrimination Laws
The legal term for workplace harassment is “hostile work environment,” and it fits the EEOC’s definition of employment discrimination. When the hostile behavior is related to your gender identity, gender presentation, or sexual orientation, it is sexual harassment. Offensive behavior still counts as sexual harassment whether or not the harasser shows interest in the victim of harassment as a romantic partner; the harasser can be any gender, and so can the victim. For example, a heterosexual woman would have grounds to complain about sexual harassment if a gay male coworker frequently made negative comments about her appearance and about women in general and frequently criticized her decision to have children while working in her career field. Likewise, a gay man would have reason to complain about sexual harassment if a straight male coworker frequently called him derogatory names and sometimes pretended to flirt with him.
Legal Remedies Available to Survivors of Workplace Sexual Harassment
If the employment discrimination you are experiencing takes the form of sexual harassment, you should contact an employment discrimination lawyer. If the harassment is serious enough that it has caused you to research sexual harassment laws, then it is time to contact a lawyer. Even before you contact a lawyer, write down in as much detail as you can remember all the incidents of harassment and when they occurred. Depending on the circumstances, your employer might advise you first to report the situation to the human resources department at your company, or your lawyer might advise you to go directly to reporting the harassment to the EEOC. You cannot file a workplace discrimination lawsuit, including a sexual harassment lawsuit, until you receive permission to sue; the EEOC will grant you permission to sue after it has conducted a preliminary investigation into your case.
Contact an Indiana Employment Lawyer About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
An employment lawyer can help you report the sexual harassment you have experienced in the workplace to the relevant authorities. According to federal and state law, sexual harassment in the workplace is a type of employment discrimination based on gender. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Indianapolis, Indiana to set up a consultation.