What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

You worked hard and yearned for that promotion. Unfortunately, someone is blocking your way with inappropriate comments. If you don't play along, they can demote or fire you. Sexual harassment in the workplace is detrimental to employees' health and well-being. It has the potential to reduce worker's productivity, increase absence, and increase turnover rate. All workers have the right to a safe and hospitable workplace; continue reading to learn more.

What Is Sexual Harassment at Work?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can occur in two ways:

Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environment occurs when someone you work with makes:

  • Inappropriately sexual or degrading remarks
  • Persistent and unwanted invitations for dates
  • Rude gestures
  • Unpleasant touches
  • Jokes or pranks
  • Threatening actions
  • Pornographic materials

This implies that the harassment happens often enough to impair your ability to do your work effectively. The second method of hostile work environment is when your employer gives you an undesirable job position than your coworkers of the opposite sexes.

Quid Pro Quo

This type of harassment occurs when a supervisor or other management requests sexual activity in exchange for work perks or promotions. Sexual harassment may occur even if you did not say "no." If you were compelled to have sexual contact because you were:

  • Ashamed to say no
  • Fearful of losing your job
  • Fearful of being disciplined at work

Your gender identity does not have to be the only cause for this unjust conduct. It must account for a substantial portion of the reason you were harassed.

What To Do if You Were a Victim of Workplace Harassment?

Inform your harasser to stop harassing you. Inform upper management of the harassment and request that something be done to put an end to it. Notify a person with decision-making power about the harassment. Make an attempt to lodge your complaint in writing. Make your complaint in the presence of a trustworthy witness. Attempt to get evidence that your employer received your complaint, indicating the date and time the complaint was made.

What Should My Employers Do With Sexual Harassment Issues?

Your company is required to conduct a thorough investigation. They must take immediate action to end workplace sexual harassment and ensure that it never happens again. Termination or career changes for the victim are not appropriate responses to workplace sexual harassment. For instance, your employer may want to keep you apart from your harasser by altering your schedule or transferring you to a different location. If these adjustments hinder your job or income, they are not acceptable answers.

Sexual Harassment Laws: Who Is Liable?

If the employer was a direct participant in the harassment, then they may be held responsible. They are liable if they were aware of the harassment and failed to resolve the issue promptly. Under state law, if the employers are directly discriminatory, like promoting only men, even though there are qualified women, then they are liable. If you were dismissed because the company sexually harassed you, then they could get sued. Employers are required to have a minimum of 15 workers under federal employment discrimination legislation.

What Are the Sexual Harassment Laws in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under federal and state anti-discrimination legislation. The following is a concise overview of these legislations:

Federal Legislation

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Other protected characteristics

Sexual harassment is a kind of discrimination based on gender. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Employers with 15 or more workers, employment agencies, and most unions are under the legislation.

State Legislation

Employers with at least eight workers are subject to the legislation. Workers may sue in state court or submit a complaint with the Human Rights Commission under the state's anti-discrimination law.

What Is the Time Limit for Filing a Complaint or Suing?

It depends on whatever statute you choose to apply: federal or state.

Federal Statutory Limitations

Federal law requires that you first register a complaint with the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). A complaint must be filed within 300 days after the discrimination. The EEOC will examine your claim and attempt to assist all parties in reaching a consensual settlement to avoid going to court. The EEOC may litigate on your behalf. However, it is more likely to give you a notice of your "right to sue." This notification provides you with the opportunity to bring private litigation to court.

State Statutory Limitations

To submit a complaint under state law, you must do so within 180 days of the discriminatory occurrence. It is generally preferable to submit the complaint immediately since it is not always obvious if two discriminatory incidents are connected. The issue will be investigated by the Human Rights Commission.

How to Make a Claim?

Make every effort to adhere to and fulfill your job obligations. If you have a habit of sloppy work performance, it will be difficult to report sexual harassment. Here are some tips to making a claim:

  • Maintain a documented record of the dates, times, witnesses, and events
  • Take notes during lunch breaks or after work
  • Avoid exposing yourself to the accusation of doing personal business during work time
  • Keep your written record and notes in a safe area, like your home.
  • Make or retain copies of documents only with your employer's consent
  • Keep your notes brief and to the point (who, what, when, where)
  • Make no assumptions about the facts
  • Do not exaggerate
  • Keep track of how the harassment impacted your work performance
  • Confide in only those whom you are convinced you can trust
  • Maintain a copy of your written job description
  • Request and retain a copy of a written job assessment

Be aware that when you file a claim for emotional distress, the harasser will have access to information about you that would otherwise be private and confidential. Your employer's lawyer will have access to records and information regarding your health care, education, job, family life, and any potential criminal past.

What Can My Employer Do to Protect Their Interests?

Your employer may attempt to protect themselves by claiming:

  • They have appropriate rules and procedures to protect employees
  • They are unaware of the harassment
  • They took fairly quick and sufficient remedial action to avert future harassment
  • You acted irrationally by failing to take advantage of the preventative or corrective protection offered by your employer

If upper management's harassment have led to employment action against you, they could not utilize any of those defenses. Your employer may attempt to demonstrate a valid business rationale for any rough treatment you received based on your gender. For example, a women-only spa may only want to hire women to provide spa services. They may argue that your proof is insufficient to establish that you were a victim of workplace sexual harassment.

What if You Are an Undocumented Worker?

Most labor and employment regulations, including those prohibiting workplace sexual harassment, apply to undocumented workers. Undocumented employees are often unable to recover pay for workplace sexual harassment. Your attorney should maintain the confidentiality of your immigration status. In some cases, you may be eligible for a "U visa" due to workplace sexual harassment. U visas are for crime victims who assist law enforcement in their investigations. With a U visa, you would be allowed to remain lawfully in the United States.

What Other Legal Claims Are Applicable to Your Case?

Here are some cases where you can file a legal claim:

Breach of Written Contract

You may also file a lawsuit against your employer for breach of a written contract. This is a collective bargaining agreement or an employee handbook.


If your company dismisses or punishes you at work due to your claim of workplace sexual harassment, you may also file a retaliation claim. To establish retaliation, you must prove that your allegation of workplace harassment originates from how the employer treated you unjustly at work. This is known as "adverse employment actions," and the unfair treatment may include:

  • Depriving you of job responsibilities or privileges
  • Reassigning favorable work assignments or preferred customers to another employee
  • Excluding you from staff meetings
  • Assigning you to a less favorable office environment
  • Reassigning you to a longer commute

Once you gather all the evidence, you can successfully claim that it's from retaliation.


You may also bring a claim for discrimination based on your:

  • Race
  • Handicap
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Pregnant status
  • Involvement in union activities

Discrimination is a common sexual harassment issue in the workplace.

What Are You Entitled to if You Win?

If your lawsuit is settled or you win at trial, you may be entitled to:

  • Recover out-of-pocket expenditures
  • Money for emotional damage
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost earnings (past and future)
  • Job reinstatement
  • Restoration of work benefits, promotion, litigation costs, and attorney fees

In certain instances, you may be granted punitive damages. This is where the harassment is severe enough that the court awards additional money.

What if You Are Harassed at Work?

Workplace safety is essential for the well-being of the employees. If you experience sexual harassment at work, you should take action immediately. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is the make a claim.