Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This would mean any type of unwanted sexual conduct at work, including verbal harassment, intimidation, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex, or outright assault. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a sexual harassment claim or for participating in an investigation or providing witness testimony as part of a claim filed by another employee.
The Harvey Weinstein revelations and the birth of the #MeToo movement have highlighted just how widespread sexual harassment still is, even though it has been more than half a century since this practice was made illegal. With so many women (and men) having to deal with this issue, it is important for us to be more educated about it.
Here are six things you should know about sexual harassment:
- The Vast Majority of Women have Experienced Some Type of Sexual Harassment
A 2018 survey reported by NPR shows that sexual harassment is anything but an isolated incident. It found that 81% of women and 43% of men had been sexually harassed at some point during their lifetimes. Broken down even further, the survey found the following:
- 77% of women and 34% of men have experienced verbal sexual harassment;
- 51% of women and 17% of men have experienced unwanted sexual touching;
- 41% of women and 22% of men have experienced cyber-sexual harassment;
- 34% of women and 12% of men have been physically followed/stalked;
- 30% of women and 12% of men have been subjected to unwanted genital flashing;
- 27% of women and 7% of men have been sexually assaulted.
Of those who have been harassed, 66% of women say it is happened in public places such as the workplace, while another 35% say it is happened at their residence. Most people who say they have experienced harassment say that it is happened in multiple locations.
These numbers tell us that those who are subjected to sexual harassment are far from alone, although they may feel that way. Oftentimes, when one person summons the courage to report being harassed, others who have been harassed start believing it is safe to come forward as well. But as we have seen in cases like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, it can take years or even decades for this to happen. This is why it is so important to report it if you are being harassed, because chances are there are others who are going through (or have gone through) the same thing you are.
- Bosses/Managers/Supervisors are not the Only Ones who are Guilty of Sexual Harassment
Although sexual harassment often happens between a boss and their subordinate, this is not always the case. A harasser can be a co-worker, colleague, contractor, or even someone from outside the organization. One common example is in the medical industry, where many female doctors are sexually harassed by patients.
- Very Few Employees are Ever Eager to Report Harassment
Contrary to popular belief in some circles, there is not some big lineup of false accusers ready to come out of the woodwork and file charges against someone for sexual harassment. The fact is that most victims are very reluctant to come forward because they know that it could be severely damaging to their careers.
When someone reports harassment, even though they are supposed to remain anonymous, there is a good chance that the perpetrator will know who it is. There is also a good chance that the victim will be labeled as “moody” or “hard to work with” and be reassigned to a different job while the perpetrator remains where they are. And even though there may not be any direct retaliation, important people in the organization may shy away from the victim, costing them potential opportunities.
Not too many people want this kind of trouble – most would rather stay silent and hope it goes away. At the end of the day, the reason a victim comes forward has more to do with protecting others from going through the same thing s/he has had to endure rather than to collect a big legal “payday”.
- An Organization Needs to Show they are Serious for the Workplace Culture to Change
Just about every organization with more than 10 or 15 employees has some type of written anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. Many also bring in outside specialists to train employees and make them aware about what is and what is not appropriate workplace conduct. But unfortunately, an official policy and a day or two of training is about all the attention some organizations give to the subject. They check off the appropriate legal boxes, but when it comes right down to it, they are indifferent when actual reports of harassment are filed. An organization needs to have a true “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual harassment. Because if they just pay lip service to it, perpetrators will continue to get away with this type of behavior and the workplace culture will not really change.
- Quitting Could Hurt Your Ability to take Legal Action
If you are experiencing sexual harassment in your workplace, it is important to realize that, as unfair as it may be, quitting could cause you to forfeit your right to file a lawsuit. This is because if you are not an employee of the company anymore, you would not be able to file a harassment claim on their policy. And without that claim, you might not be able to take further legal action. If you want to quit the company where you are being sexually harassed, it is best to do so after you have filed the claim and participated in the investigation.
- An Isolated Incident May Not be Enough to Bring a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Another hard fact about workplace harassment is that a one-time incident might not be enough for you to take legal action. You should still report the harassment so it is documented, because you never know if the perpetrator may turn into a repeat offender down the road. And as mentioned earlier, you also never know who else the perpetrator might be harassing. While this one incident might not be enough to build a legal claim around, having it on the record could lay the groundwork for a future lawsuit if the harassment is repeated.
Experienced Sexual Harassment in Alabama? Contact Attorney Kira Fonteneau for Assistance
If you have been sexually harassed in an Alabama workplace, it is always best to talk with a skilled and knowledgeable workplace discrimination attorney, so you fully understand your legal rights and options. To schedule a free, no obligation consultation with attorney Kira Fonteneau, message us online or call our office today at 205-564-9005. We look forward to speaking with you!