Sexual harassment in the workplace is clearly prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, proving sexual harassment can be a difficult endeavor. Interpretation of the facts can be ambiguous and the courts have historically wavered between opinions and judgements. Let’s learn more about sexual harassment and how to document workplace sexual harassment if you believe you are a victim.
What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website says, “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
Under this broad definition, the EEOC has divided workplace sexual harassment into two categories:
- Quid Pro Quo – This is when a person in authority at your workplace requests sex, or a sexual relationship, in exchange for not firing or otherwise punishing the employee, or in exchange for favors, such as promotions or raises.
- Hostile Work Environment – This is when sexual harassment occurs through the presence of demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes or threats. The inappropriate behavior or conduct must be so pervasive as to create an intimidating and offensive work environment.
Understandably, these categories are still somewhat broad, leaving some workers questioning what is or is not sexual harassment. It is important to remember that workplace sexual harassment can also take the following forms:
- Employment Discrimination
- Inappropriate Comments on Appearance
- Obesity Discrimination
- Sexual Discrimination
- Unintentional Sexual Harassment
- Workplace Dress Codes
Any action or treatment that makes you feel uncomfortable, is unwelcome and uninvited or otherwise is questionable should be reviewed as possible workplace sexual discrimination. The employee handbook at your place of employment may also list certain actions that are considered harassment and should be reported to your employer.
How Do I Document Workplace Sexual Harassment?
If you experience any form of possible workplace sexual harassment, consult your employer’s handbook or policies for how they handle such incidents. Follow their policy to the letter and keep copies of any written complaints. Follow these recommendations:
- Make detailed notes on the harassment, including the time, place and what was said and done.
- Obtain statements from anyone who witnessed the harassing actions or words.
- Take photos, audio or video of any actions or words if possible.
- Keep any physical evidence, such as notes, gifts or other items.
- Keep any communications, whether handwritten or digital, like emails or texts.
- Continue performing your job in an exemplary manner.
- Keep records of your work evaluations, letters of commendation or memos that show that you do a good job at work.
The more evidence you can gather, the easier it will be to prove your claims when you file a formal complaint with your employer and/or the EEOC. The law allows you to file a claim of workplace sexual discrimination up to 180 days – six months – from the date of any discriminatory activity.
Protecting Your Rights with a Workplace Sexual Harassment Charge
Follow the protocol established in your employer’s workplace handbook for reporting allegations of sexual harassment. Use the recommendations above to document discriminatory activity and be prepared to share it with your employer. Keep copies of everything and do not speak with anyone about your claims without your attorney present.
You also have the right to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for any violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. They employ investigators who will review the matter and seek a settlement. This can include charges being placed in some cases. You also have the right to pursue a lawsuit against the perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment and possibly your employer.
The Crone Law Firm in Memphis provides aggressive, knowledgeable and reliable legal counsel and representation for workers across Tennessee who are victims of workplace sexual harassment. If you believe you have suffered sexual harassment at work, contact us in Memphis as soon as possible for a confidential consultation to review your claim.