If you are being sexually harassed at work, you don’t need to suffer in silence – or worry that you’ll face retaliation if you come forward. Workplace sexual harassment is illegal. If you’re experiencing or have experienced sexual harassment, there are federal, state and local laws to protect employees from unwelcome sexual advances, unwanted sexual demands and propositions and working in a sexually hostile work environment.

Below are some common questions about sexual harassment in the workplace. If you believe you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, you should contact an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with these types of claims.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination in the workplace that violates both federal and state anti-discrimination laws. A wide variety of behavior may constitute sexual harassment, and both men and women can be targets. The perpetrator may be of the same or opposite sex, and may be a supervisor, a co-worker, or even a non-employee. To be considered sexual harassment, the behavior must generally include: (1) unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature; and (2) the behavior must be tied to an employment action – such as hiring, firing, non-promotion, demotion, undesirable reassignment, or change in pay or benefits in response to the employee’s refusal to submit to the unwelcome conduct), and/or the behavior must be so severe or pervasive that it effectively changes the victim’s working conditions, making it a sexually hostile work environment.

What is the first step I should take if I believe I am being sexually harassed?

In many sexual harassment cases, especially those involving a hostile work environment, the responsible parties may not realize that their conduct is offensive. If you are a victim of harassment, your first step toward resolving the problem should be to let the offending party know that you find their conduct offensive. In many cases this will resolve the problem, as the offensive conduct will stop out of a genuine concern for everyone’s sensibilities, or out of an urge to avoid further workplace tension. If the issue isn’t resolved at this stage, you have at least put the harasser on notice that you find his or her conduct offensive.

If the aforementioned is not resolved, an employee who believes that he or she is being sexually harassed can start taking action in two ways:

(1) Document the harassment.  Someone who is being harassed should take notes by making a record of all the unwanted behavior and adding to it as new things happen. She should also retain email, text messages, voicemails, or other evidence demonstrating the conduct. 

(2) Seek advice. A person who is being harassed should contact an attorney to find out if the behavior meets the legal definition of sexual harassment and what she can do about it. It is especially important for her to seek out legal advice before following the company’s anti-harassment policy if she has concerns that reporting will lead to retaliation. For example, if other people who have reported sexual harassment have been managed out of the company or if the alleged harasser has had multiple complaints brought against him with no type of corrective action administered, legal intervention is likely going to be necessary.

I reported sexual harassment to my supervisor, and they encouraged me not to pursue my complaint. Even though I said that I wanted my complaint fully investigated, my employer didn’t do anything. What are my options now?

If a person is being harassed at work, he or she can report it to a supervisor. Once an employer receives a sexual harassment complaint, whether the harasser is an employee or not, the employer must take steps to address it. Employers have an obligation to keep their workplaces free from sexual harassment, and if an employer knows that sexual harassment is occurring and does nothing, the employer may be legally responsible if the harassment continues.

Many employers have a detailed procedure for handling sexual harassment claims. If your company has such a procedure, you should follow it to the letter, taking note of any time limits set out in that policy. For example, many employer policies will designate someone to whom harassment must be reported, so if your company has designated certain staff as being responsible for receiving sexual harassment complaints, that is where you should start.

Even if the employer fails to take appropriate action to stop the harassment, you are not without option. If this has happened to you, contact an attorney to find out your options.

I was sexually harassed a while ago. Do I still have a claim?

As with most causes of action, there is a statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims. However, for ongoing harassment that creates a sexually hostile work environment, the clock starts running at the last incident of harassment. Older incidents may still be included if they are part of an ongoing pattern of sexual harassment. Other factors may also affect the statute of limitations. The best way to find out if you can still bring a claim is to contact an attorney.

Can my employer retaliate against me for filing a sexual harassment claim? It is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for rejecting sexual advances, opposing such misconduct, or reporting sexual harassment. If an employee reports sexual harassment and the employer takes action against him or her because of the complaint, the employee may have a claim for retaliation. To be considered retaliation under the law, the employer must have taken the action because of the complaint.  Acts of retaliation can include actions such as termination, non-promotion, demotion, undesirable reassignment, retaliatory harassment or change in pay or benefits.

If you are or have been experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, do not remain silent. Our experienced team is ready to help. Please contact us today for a free case evaluation.