Sexual harassment is one of the most sensitive issues in every workplace. Despite how serious and widely discussed the issue is, sexual harassment is more complex than you might think. Sexual harassment laws began to be developed with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the act that is to thank for being the root of all anti-discrimination laws in our country. It is a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It applies to any employer with 15 or more employees. Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination; therefore, it falls under this law. While this law offers federal protections against sexual harassment, the protections are broadly worded. Many states have laws that offer more specific definitions, punishments, and protections in the case of sexual harassment.
The law states that the harassment doesn't have to be explicitly sexual in nature: offensive generalizations about a person's sex can also constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be made by a man or a woman and be directed toward a man or a woman. Even when both parties, victim and harasser, are of the same sex, it is still sexual harassment. Unwelcome sexual advances are obviously counted as sexual advances, such as lewd invitations for sexual congress. Repeated requests for a date or a relationship also constitute sexual harassment. A single, isolated incident of an inappropriate joke or offhand comment does not usually count as sexual harassment (although even a single incident of unwelcome physical contact certainly does constitute sexual harassment). However, if an employee feels that their workplace has become and unsafe or hostile environment due to repeated offenses or lack of discipline for the offenders, sexual harassment has definitely occurred. An employee can claim sexual harassment whether it was his or her boss, coworker, or even a third party (such as a customer) that committed the offense. It is the employer's responsibility to protect their employees from all instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Most employer's take sexual harassment very seriously. They usually offer detailed sensitivity training as part of new-hire orientation, and may repeat sexual harassment training at intervals throughout the year. Still, sometimes this training is not enough to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. In the event that you believe you are facing sexual harassment at work, there are several steps you can take. If you feel you can safely request for the behavior to stop from the one committing the offense, do so. You should do so by email if possible, mentioning the specific behavior with a request for the harasser to desist. This way, there it is documented when you started feeling harassed and that you attempted to stop the harassment. If that doesn't end the behavior or you do not feel safe, you should immediately speak to your supervisor or human resources department. As soon as you feel the need to escalate the issue, you should simultaneously file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as consulting an employment attorney if you so choose.