If you witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or discrimination in your workplace, would you make every effort to report it?
The majority of American adults today would probably answer “yes” to that question. After all, most people should hope their sense of morality would kick in and compel them to report discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation isn’t so cut-and-dry. Over the years we have received numerous questions about sexual harassment in the workplace, and we often receive questions concerning whether an employer can punish an employee who reports sexual harassment at work.
According to a 2013 National Business Ethics Survey from the Ethics Resource Center, around 45% of American workers have seen some kind of workplace misconduct, but nearly half in this group (47%) decided not to speak up because most feared retaliation (such as being demoted or even fired from their job). An additional 21% of workers did report the violation and subsequently experienced some form of retaliation as a result of the report. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why many employees who feel they are being sexually harassed do not want to report it.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment — or any type of discrimination in the workplace, for that matter — your employer is not allowed to punish you or retaliate against you in any way for reporting such conduct. You have the right to report illegal discrimination in the workplace and to be protected from retaliation for doing so.
So what exactly falls under the definition of “sexual harassment” in the office?
As defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment can include: unwelcome sexual advances (both physical and verbal); requests for sexual favors; demands, threats, or any other form of physical or verbal conduct which is sexual in nature and interferes with your ability to perform your job duties or to receive equal job opportunities.
This may include situations such as:
- Your boss asking for a sexual favor — or even to go out on a date — in exchange for a raise, job promotion, or positive recommendation.
- Coworkers making crude jokes at your expense, staring at you inappropriately, or making unwanted physical contact with you in the office.
- Coworkers displaying inappropriate content in the office, which you cannot avoid seeing or hearing, solely to make you feel uncomfortable.
- A coworker repeatedly making sexual advances toward you even after you make it clear you’re not interested in a sexual relationship with him/her.
- Experiencing retaliation (e.g., purposely not invited to important business meetings) because you have chosen to decline — or to accept — to begin a personal relationship with another coworker outside of the work environment.
It’s important to understand both women and men can experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and that one person’s actions or words may be interpreted much differently than how the person intended.
If you feel you are the victim of sexual harassment in your workplace, your first step should be to talk with your employer and try to resolve the issue internally. If the harassment does not stop or if your employer refuses to acknowledge the problem — or if your boss is the perpetrator — you may want to seek legal guidance from an employment lawyer.
Most importantly, remember that your employer cannot, under state and federal sexual harassment and discrimination laws, punish you simply because you have reported a sexual harassment incident at work, regardless of whether you are the victim of the incident or merely an observer. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, or you feel your employer has retaliated against you, contact the Cincinnati employment lawyers at Robert A. Klingler, Co., L.P.A immediately.
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