Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when unwelcome sexual advances are made that are either severe or pervasive. This can occur between the same or opposite sex. Sexual harassment also includes gender-based animosity.
Sexual harassment also exists where there is a hostile work environment. The test the law uses to determine if a hostile work environment exists is very subjective, and thus the outcome of any case is going to depend on its own facts. The law considers a hostile work environment to exist where a "reasonable person" would consider the environment hostile, and the individual actually perceived it as hostile. Frequency and severity of the conduct are factors weighed in this determination.
THE LAW ALLOWS EMPLOYERS THE OPPORTUNITY TO CORRECT THE SITUATION BEFORE BEING LIABLE, SO IF YOU ARE BEING SEXUALLY HARASSED, YOU NEED TO JUMP THROUGH A FEW HOOPS BEFORE YOU CAN BRING A LAWSUIT.
On the one hand, these seem like common sense; on the other, they can jeopardize your job, even if you have no intention of bringing a lawsuit.
First, you need to make a complaint about any unwelcome behavior; it can't be considered unwelcome, for example, if the person complaining of sexually charged jokes was also participating in them, even if to a lesser extent. Further, signals can be misinterpreted, and the person making an advance needs to know that the advance is not welcome.
Second, if making your objections known is not enough to stop the harassment, you need to take advantage of any preventitive or corrective measures your employer may provide (most companies have a process for making such complaints through the human resources department). You must let them know everything that has happened and give them the opportunity to correct the situation in-house. This can be hazardous to your job stability, as most employers see the person complaining as much of a liability risk as the person harassing. After you report it, it is wise to be the perfect employee - punctual, productive and professional - until the dust settles -- don't give them a pretext for terminating your employment.
If you have made known that sexual conduct is unwelcome, and have followed your company's procedures for complaint and correction but are still in a sexually hostile environment, contact us. We'd like to make sure that it stops.
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