Sexual Harassment FAQs
Nobody should have to endure sexual harassment. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace or in an educational setting it is important that you learn your rights and understand how you can protect yourself.
Use this Q&A list below to get answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on sexual harassment.
- What is sexual harassment?
- What are some examples of sexual harassment?
- What can I do if I feel I am being sexually harassed?
- How do I prove the sexual harassment if it was all verbal?
- Is it unlawful for a supervisor or professor to date one of his/her subordinates or students?
- Can my employer, co-worker, professor or peer retaliate against me for filing a sexual harassment claim?
- What can I be awarded if I win a lawsuit?
What is sexual harassment?
According to the EEOC, “Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general (refer to examples below).Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is unlawful when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.Back to top
What are some examples of sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment can come in many forms. These are just some examples of unwanted behavior that could constitute sexual harassment:
- Sexual innuendos
- Comments about a person’s or peoples bodies
- Stories of sexual exploitation
- Pressure for dates
- Unwelcome touching and hugging
- Sexist jokes and cartoons
- Displaying pornography in the workplace
- Inappropriate gifts
- Cat calls, wolf whistles, etc.
This is just a small sampling. If you have questions about your specific situation it is best to contact an attorney. Some attorneys including John Sherman give free consults to clients who need advice on their situation.Back to top
What can I do if I feel I am being sexually harassed?
- Speak up. If possible, the first action you must take is to tell your harasser to stop. You can speak with them or send an email describing specifically the behavior that is offensive to you so you have written documentation of your request. If you are not able or do not feel comfortable confronting your harasser, report the behavior to a supervisor.
- Know your company or university policy. Different companies and universities have different policies when it comes to sexual harassment. While all colleges should have a robust policy surrounding sexual harassment, not all companies do. If your company has a policy around sexual harassment follow the steps outlined and report the behavior to the listed person. If there is no policy in place at your company report the harassment to your supervisor or the next person in the chain of command in the instance that your supervisor is the one doing the harassing.
- Document everything. If he/she continues to harass you after you have asked him/her to stop, make sure you are keeping detailed records – include dates of harassment, the place and time it happened and anyone else who may have witnessed the behavior.
- Contact a lawyer. A lawyer will help you understand whether or not you have a credible case, will walk you through the process of filing a claim and help you navigate the legal system.
It is important to note that you only have 180 days after the last incident of harassment to file a claim with the Human Rights Commision/EEOC, which is the first step in filing a claim.Back to top
How do I prove the sexual harassment if it was all verbal?
Most sexual harassment is verbal in nature. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prove the harassment. Keep detailed records of every incident of harassment, including date, time, language used and witnesses. If possible, you should obtain your employment records such as performance reviews and file complaints through the appropriate channels in your workplace. The more documentation you have, the better off you will be when it comes time to prove the sexual harassment.Back to top
Is it unlawful for a supervisor or professor to date one of his/her subordinates or students?
While it is not unlawful, it may be unethical and many companies and universities have specific policies surrounding these types of relationships.Back to top
Can my employer, co-worker, professor or peer retaliate against me for filing a sexual harassment claim?
No, it is unlawful for an employer, supervisor or co-worker to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment or discrimination. It is also unlawful to retaliate against anyone acting as a witness in a sexual harassment case.Back to top
What can I be awarded if I win a lawsuit?
While every case is different, if you file a lawsuit and are successful you may be eligible for:
- Back pay
- Attorney fees and court costs
- Compensatory and punitive damages
- Reinstatement if you lost your job
- Front pay if reinstatement is not an option
If you believe you have a sexual harassment case, you need legal counsel that is both thorough and effective. Contact us to schedule a free initial consultation or call us at 603.570.4837.