It is hard to have a serious conversation with most people about sexual harassment. You will be met with tasteless jokes, dismissive remarks about how your generation is too thin-skinned, one-upmanship about who has experienced the worst harassment or other mistreatment at work, or, on certain corners of the Internet, with vitriol about political correctness. If you have experienced behavior at work that you think fits the definition of sexual harassment, it is understandable if you do not want to talk to your family and friends about it and even more understandable if you do not want to post about it on social media. In fact, these are not the best venues for discussing sexual harassment in the workplace. The best way to move forward from a work environment where employees face sexual harassment is to consult an employment lawyer and, if appropriate, file an employment discrimination claim. The Spokane sexual harassment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you defend yourself and your coworkers against sexual harassment in the workplace.
What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is the most notorious form of the many forms that sexual harassment can take. Outside the context of employment law, when people say “sexual harassment,” they are usually talking about quid pro quo sexual harassment. “Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “this for that.” In quid pro quo sexual harassment, a work supervisor makes an aspect of a subordinate employee’s job contingent on the employee engaging in physical intimacy or a romantic relationship with the supervisor. In some cases, the supervisor offers to give the employee a promotion in exchange for intimacy or sexual favors, but there are usually threats of retaliation involved if the employee does not comply. For example, the employer might not simply keep the employee in his or her current role in the organization if the employee did not comply. The supervisor might threaten to get the employee fired or tell human resources that the employee was the one who wanted to date the supervisor and then fabricated the sexual harassment allegations when the supervisor refused to date the employee and rejected the employee’s sexual advances.
Where is the Line Between a Lack of Social Graces and Sexual Harassment?
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is so insidious because it inherently carries a threat of retaliation. Employer retaliation is illegal in any context except for clear cases of employee misconduct, but employees can sue their employers for retaliation in any situation where the employer took an adverse action against the employee (such as demotion, denial of a promotion, or termination of employment) to punish the employee for engaging in a protected activity, such as requesting an accommodation or leave of absence from work to which the employee is legally entitled or reporting misconduct that the employee witnessed in the workplace. Complaining to human resources or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a protected activity, meaning that you can sue your employer for retaliation if your employer fires you because of your EEOC complaint.
Many instances of sexual harassment do not involve clear threats of retaliation, though. Rather, they are more like a grown-up version of schoolyard bullying. One rude remark is not enough to constitute a hostile work environment, but when a coworker constantly teases you and makes derogatory comments, it is enough to interfere with your ability to do your work tasks, and it can make the job on which you depend for income a major source of stress.
As for what kinds of rude behavior constitute sexual harassment, it can be almost any discussion of matters related to gender, sexuality, and romantic relationships that are unrelated to your work. Consider that, in many industries, it is possible for people to work together for years and only be vaguely aware of each other’s relationship status or sexual orientation. Perhaps you worked with your coworker for 10 years before he mentioned that he and his wife had just attended their son’s high school graduation, and this was the first time you ever found out that your coworker was married and had a son. If your coworkers frequently tease you about your physical appearance, relationship status, romantic partner, or sexual orientation, and it makes you uncomfortable enough that it interferes with your work, then it is sexual harassment. It is possible to suffer sexual harassment by someone with whom you could theoretically match on a dating site. If you are a straight woman, straight men are not the only people who could sexually harass you. If another straight woman, a gay man, or anyone else in your workplace frequently harasses or insults you about matters related to sex and sexuality, it is sexual harassment.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Your Employer
From a legal perspective, sexual harassment is employment discrimination. Therefore, the procedures for filing a complaint about sexual harassment are the same as for any other kind of employment discrimination complaint. The first step is to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) so that it can launch a preliminary investigation into discrimination in your workplace. The deadline for notifying the EEOC about your sexual harassment complaint is 45 days after the most recent incident of harassment. The investigation is a prerequisite to filing an employment discrimination lawsuit; you must wait until the EEOC gives you written authorization to sue. In order to maximize the chances of your claim being successful, it is best to contact an employment lawyer before your first meeting or email contact with the EEOC.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law, even when it only takes place on a verbal level. The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you file an employment discrimination claim about sexual harassment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.