It should be a given that employees deserve to feel safe and respected in their workplaces. Sexual harassment in the workplace creates a hostile environment for employees that can be emotionally and mentally damaging and poorly affect their job performance. This article is intended as a short guide to what sexual harassment is and what legal options may be available if you’ve been victimized. If you experienced sexual harassment in your workplace, you should contact a Baltimore sexual harassment and abuse attorney. They can help you understand your rights and assist you through the legal process.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sex is a protected category under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That means that it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against someone else based on the victim’s sex or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment is harassment based on a person’s sex. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct or communication such as:
- Sexual advances or touching;
- Asking for sexual favors;
- Offensive comments about someone’s sex in general;
- Vulgar language or imagery;
- Displaying sexually explicit material; and
- Other physical and verbal sexual abuse.
Victims and harassers can be of any gender or sex.
Hostile Environment Harassment
Not every incident will rise to the level of being workplace sexual harassment. Anti-sexual harassment policies are not intended to condemn simple teasing or one-off comments. However, the law prohibits conduct that creates a hostile environment at work. A hostile work environment is one where harassment makes the employee feel uncomfortable at work or interferes with their work performance. This can happen because of the frequency or severity of the conduct. And even though on-off comments do not typically qualify as harassment, one event could be enough to qualify if the conduct was egregious enough.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
“Quid pro quo” means to give something in exchange for something else. Quid pro quo sexual harassment means that the harasser wants the victim to submit to harassment as a condition of their employment. This type of harassment affects the employee’s ability to move forward with their career. Examples include tolerating offensive comments to keep your job or giving sexual favors in return for promotions and raises.
Title VII also prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against employees that report harassment or discrimination. Retaliation could look like firing, demotion, or other forms of mistreatment.
Who Can Be Guilty of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace? Who Can Be a Victim?
The most common instances of sexual harassment in the workplace happen between supervisors and subordinates or between co-workers—but anyone in the workplace can be guilty of sexual harassment or become a victim. Victims can be job applicants, management, co-workers, janitorial staff, clients, security guards, customers, independent contractors, etc. Harassers can be any of these parties as well.
How Do I Know If I Have a Sexual Harassment Claim?
Workplace sexual harassment can look like a variety of different behaviors. Some will be obvious, while others might seem totally innocent in other circumstances. For example, sexual harassment could result from routinely standing too close to someone or hugging or touching them repeatedly. The victim’s perception of the conduct plays a very large part in the matter. Each case must be evaluated separately on its own merits.
In a valid sexual harassment claim, the conduct at issue must be unwelcome. It must have been reasonably clear that the victim was not inviting the harasser’s behavior. Victims do not need to act out against the harassment or say anything to their harassers. Even if they submit to the harassment, they can still be a victim. Someone might participate in the harassment because they fear for their safety or their job. That does not mean the conduct was welcome. Maryland courts will review all the facts and circumstances to make a determination.
What to Do If You Are Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work
Ignoring sexual harassment usually will not make the problem stop. Here are some steps you should take to deal with the situation.
Make It Clear That the Conduct is Unwelcome
You do not have to confront your harasser. However, you must also not encourage their behavior or advances.
Make a Record
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, it is important to create a record of what’s happening. You should record any incidents in writing and include all possible details about the abuser and their conduct. It would be very helpful to also make a note of any other witnesses or get a written account from those people, if possible.
Make an Internal Complaint to Your Employer
You must also report the harassment to a supervisor or to your employer’s human resources department. Identify any witnesses or other harassment victims. Confirm any verbal communications in writing, such as in an email. Keep a record of any actions you make and what responses your employer or HR makes.
File a Sexual Harassment Complaint
You can file an employment harassment complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or county Fair Employment Practices Agency. They will conduct an investigation, and If they find probable cause, they will make a good faith effort to resolve the matter and provide relief.
File a Lawsuit in Court
To file a lawsuit, you must first file your complaint with the EEOC or state or local Fair Employment Practices Agency. The EEOC will issue you a Notice of Right to Sue when it closes its investigation. This Notice allows you to go after your employer. You must file within 90 days of the date of the Notice.
Smithey Law Group, LLC Can Help with Your Sexual Harassment Claim
If you are looking for a Baltimore sexual harassment and abuse attorney, contact Smithey Law Group, LLC. We are sensitive to the issues victims of sexual harassment have to contend with. The stress of working in a hostile environment can lead to physical and mental issues, as well as affect your job. You should not have to deal with that, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.
We also handle other types of employment legal matters cases, including:
Contact our Baltimore sexual harassment and abuse lawyer at Smithey Law Group, LLC to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.