What is sexual harassment?
Workplace sexual harassment takes many different forms. It can come from colleagues, a boss, or a client, and ranges from unwelcome touching, inappropriate comments or jokes, or someone promising you a promotion in exchange for sexual favors.
Sexual harassment is not always sexual. It can also be mocking, bullying or offensive remarks based on stereotypes (e.g., about how certain people “are” or should act), or mistreating someone or a group of people based on their sex, gender identity (man, woman, trans, intersex, nonbinary) or sexual orientation (queer, straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, two-spirit etc.)
Sometimes sexual harassment is about sex and something else, like race or ethnicity. For example, a woman of color may experience harassment in the workplace differently from a white female colleague. She may be the focus of abusive conduct because of the combination of her sex and her race.
Behavior may also be sexual harassment even if, in the moment, you don’t say something else to let the person know that what they are doing is unwelcome. You may laugh at a joke that you think offensive, or accept a hug because you are caught off guard or because you are concerned the person will react badly if call out the behavior as inappropriate. If the harasser is a supervisor or someone else who has more organizational power than you, you might be fearful that speaking up will negatively impact your job or internship. Theses concerns and responses are normal.
Examples of behavior that could be harassment include but are not limited to:
- Direct propositions of a sexual nature
- Sexual innuendos and other seductive behavior, including subtle pressure for sexual activity
- Repeated unwanted requests for dates
- Repeated inappropriate personal comments, staring, or touching
- Direct or implied threats that submission to sexual advances will be a condition of employment, promotion, grades, etc.
- Comments of a sexual nature, including sexually explicit statements, questions, jokes, anecdotes, or graphic material (e.g., visuals, such as screen savers, which are sexually explicit)
- Unnecessary or unwanted touching, patting, massaging, hugging or brushing against a person’s body or other conduct of a physical nature
- Remarks of a sexual nature about a person’s clothing or body
- Insulting sounds or gestures, whistles, or catcalls;
- Invading someone’s personal space or blocking their path;
- Unwelcome and inappropriate letters, telephone calls, electronic mail, or other communications
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters (e.g. screen savers).
- A consensual romantic or sexual relationship that causes adverse treatment of third parties or creates a hostile or intimidating working or learning environment for third parties.
- Saying bad things about or making fun of someone or all people of a certain gender or sexual orientation (i.e. “women are…” or “gay people all…”)
- Using gender-based or sexual orientation-based slurs (swear words)
What are the laws?
|Federal||Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a federal law that bans workplace discrimination based on certain “protected” categories or traits, including race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Title VII applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees. It prohibits employers from basing decisions about hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, or terms and conditions of employment on an employee’s sex.
Workplace sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex that violates Title VII. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment whether the harasser is the same or a different sex or gender than the person being harassed.
In addition to prohibiting discrimination and harassment, Title VII also prohibits retaliation. Thus, an employer cannot retaliate against, or punish, an employee for opposing any practice that violates Title VII or for exercising her rights under the law, such as by complaining about sex discrimination in the workplace.
If you complained or told your boss, HR, or another manager about sexual harassment, and they failed to do anything to make the situation better (or made it worse), you could consider taking legal action.
In addition, Title IX also applies to schools in other areas including employment. Specifically, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 broadly prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal funds of any kind. Such institutions include colleges and universities, local school districts, for-profit schools, and charter schools. Additionally, Title IX applies to federally-funded educational programs at museums, libraries, prisons, and other institutions.
If you are an unpaid intern (another outrage for another conversation), you may not be covered by federal anti-harassment and discrimination law, although you may have Title IX protections through HPU.
|State||Most states have their own laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sex. These laws often track the language of Title VII and generally bar the same types of discriminatory conduct. However, as a federal law, Title VII creates a floor, not a ceiling, for workers’ rights, and many states have conferred more expansive protections on a wider population of workers than that which is available under Title VII.
For example, state laws may protect individuals from discrimination based on a broader range of individual characteristics, like gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, or genetic history. Additionally, state anti-discrimination laws often apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees.
What can you do?
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment (including harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation), here are some actions you can take. Remember: It is normal to be afraid or worried about reporting sexual harassment or taking other actions to make the harassment stop. Do what is right for you, and don’t do anything that you think will put you in danger. These are just examples of options you might want to consider.
- Report to Title IX Coordinator: Students or applicants for admission can report online using the Title IX/Sexual Misconduct Student Report Form or contact the Title IX Coordinator. Kayla Rudisel, JD
Title IX Coordinator
317 Slane Student Center
- Report to your supervisor or internship coordinator: It’s not always possible to feel comfortable or safe at work after telling your boss or a supervisor about the harassment you’re experiencing. But we recommend reporting harassment to someone at work who is in a position of authority because it is harder to make your employer take action unless you report the harassment internally first.
- Report in writing, whether it’s by email or letter. Be sure to keep copies of your report(s) in a safe place outside of work, at home, or on a personal email account. For examples of what to write in your report. If you report orally (in person or on the phone), take notes about the conversation and then send a follow-up email or letter confirming what happened during the conversation.
- If you’re comfortable doing so, ask the person who’s doing the harassing to stop.
- Look at your company’s policies and complaint process.
- Write everything down. Write down what happened when the harassment occurred, including dates and times, where it occurred, what exactly was said or done, who said/did it, what you said or did, and any witnesses who were there. Include as much detail as possible, and keep notes about every time it happens or happened. If it happens again, write down the details again right away, while the memory is fresh. Save any emails, texts, letters, or messages about the harassment, or between you and the harasser. Gather them in one place, at home, on a personal email account, or in another safe place not at work.
- File a complaint with a government agency. If you have experienced harassment at work and your employer is aware but has not stopped it, ignored your report, or retaliated against (punished) you in any way for complaining or supporting someone else’s complaint of harassment, you can file a legal complaint with a government agency: either with your state’s anti-discrimination or civil rights agency (sometimes referred to as FEPA, or Fair Employment Practices Agency), or with the federal (national) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has offices nationally.
- Talk to a lawyer.