According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment complaints are on the rise. In 2018, sexual harassment claims filed with the EEOC increased by more than 13 percent over the previous year while the number of lawsuits involving sexual misconduct filed by the commission doubled. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, it is crucial to know your rights.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under local, state and federal law. Generally, there are two forms of harassment — quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment — Occurs when an employer, particularly a supervisor or person in a position of authority, expects an employee to submit to sexual advances to gain a benefit of employment (e.g. a job offer, raise, promotion). This form of harassment can also occur when an adverse employment action (e.g. firing, demotion, pay cut) is taken against an employee for refusing sexually harassing behavior.
- Hostile work environment — Arises when offensive conduct, comments or displays by anyone (a supervisor, coworker, vendor or customer) unreasonably interfere with an employee’s ability to perform or her job duties or create an intimidating workplace.
In either case, an employer that fails to respond to complaints of sexual harassment and take the appropriate level of action may be held liable through a sex discrimination lawsuit.
Why are reports of sexual harassment increasing?
At the American Bar Association’s recent conference in Mexico, EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows told attorneys that media reports of the Harvey Weinstein case did not trigger a wave of sexual misconduct. Instead, she believes it “made people realize they can talk about [sexual harassment] and report it and that something would change.”
Burrows also said that solutions to harassment are industry-specific which is why the EEOC is reaching out to employers in a number of industries, like tech and construction, to develop solutions. At the same time, employers in all sectors are consulting the civil rights agency more frequently to discuss workplace harassment.
“We are going to see a real cultural change in this country in a way that will change the way we do business,” Burrows said.
Why This Matters
This story highlights how sexual harassment remains pervasive in many work settings, despite the fact that such conduct is illegal. Nonetheless, all employees have a right to a work environment free from sexual harassment. If you have been the victim of quid quo pro sexual harassment or subjected to a hostile work environment, you may be concerned about your job, your future, and your welfare.
The best decision you can make to protect your interests is to consult an experienced employment law attorney. Similarly, the best way to protect your business from employment litigation is by seeking counsel for assistance with implementing and enforcing a sexual harassment policy.