Though at this time in our society most of us have heard of sexual harassment—or experienced it—many businesses in America have yet to fully address the problem. This, coupled with the fact that sexual harassment has climbed to the highest management levels says this is a very serious problem that must be looked at, and solutions discovered. Many businesses are aware that sexual harassment exists, and maybe even that it exists in their own business, but simply don’t know how to combat it. The ghost of liability for any acts of sexual harassment in the workplace ought to be looming sufficiently over the heads of all business owners that they are forced to not only take the issue of sexual harassment very seriously but also to put into place procedures for dealing with such harassment.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Surprisingly, many perpetrators of sexual harassment say they were unaware that their actions fell under that category. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct with sexual overtones that is ongoing, severe or pervasive and affects working environments or leads to hostile work conditions. In other words, if the person the conduct is directed towards doesn’t see it as unwelcome, then it is not sexual harassment no matter how pervasive. For this reason, there should be a statement, both verbally and in writing which says very clearly that the behaviors are offensive and unwelcome. Comments about the clothing worn by another, their behavior or their body are all considered sexual harassment as are jokes of a sexual nature. Repeatedly asking a co-worker or employee out even after being told no, requesting sexual favors or even spreading rumors about another person’s personal life can all be considered sexual harassment.
Physical sexual harassment includes patting a body part of another person, hugging or kissing them without their consent or even preventing them from walking past you to another room. Sexual harassment can also be nonverbal or visual; looking at another person’s body in an obviously suggestive manner or making facial expressions that are sexual in nature are considered sexual harassment. Sending another person e-mails, photos or drawings which depict sexual acts or tell sexual jokes is considered harassment as well. Finally, suppose a male office worker is the only male on the floor in a primarily all-female assistant job, and the females continuously play non-funny pranks on the man. Although this behavior is not overtly sexual, it can be considered sexual harassment nonetheless.
The Harassment Must Be Severe and Pervasive
The actions of the person who is harassing another must be severe or pervasive to be considered sexual harassment, meaning one incident—unless it is extremely severe—would not be considered sexual harassment. So, if a co-worker sent you one inappropriate e-mail but never did it again, there would likely not be grounds for a sexual harassment claim, although a single incidence of attempted rape most certainly would. By the same token if a co-worker asked you out once and you declined, even if he or she asked you in an offensive manner it doesn’t meet the standard of sexual harassment unless he or she continues to ask you out every day despite your refusal.
No matter the specifics of your situation, sexual harassment is against the law and there are stiff penalties in place for those convicted. Usually, companies will have respective policies in place to mitigate the risk of occurrence. If you are the victim of sexual harassment it’s important that you contact an attorney who can help you explore your options and decide what course of action to take. If you have been falsely accused of sexual harassment you also must contact a skilled criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and your future while fighting aggressively to have the charges dismissed.