In the past year, we have seen the rise of awareness as sexual assault victims from all walks of life came forward. From the viral hashtag campaign #MeToo, where social media users shared their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, to uncovering the sexual misconduct of many powerful political and Hollywood figures, one thing is clear—sexual harassment is at the front of our minds, and we are ready for a change.
But what does this mean for regular, non-Hollywood, non-Capitol Hill workplaces? As we become more sensitive to the issue at hand, are employees more likely to hold their employer responsible for ending sexual harassment? The answer appears to be a resounding “Yes.”
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like a Work?
As an employee, your employers, supervisors, and managers have a responsibility to watch for signs of sexual harassment and take steps to address it. They also are responsible for creating and enforcing policies that will prevent sexual harassment and provides a procedure for reporting and investigating claims, if necessary.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment may include:
- Submission to a sexual advance is a condition of being hired or keeping a job, whether stated explicitly or implied.
- A supervisor makes personnel decisions based on an employee’s submission to or rejection of sexual advances, whether their own or another person’s.
- Sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with an employees work performance, or creates a hostile, intimidating, or ineffective workplace. The victim of sexual harassment does not necessarily need to be the target of sexual conduct but can be a bystander.
While to EEOC provides a clear-cut definition, sexual harassment often doesn’t begin with blatant action. There are many smaller actions that can lead to sexual harassment. Supervisors should watch for these signs, but they can be easy to miss. If you are an employee who notices these behaviors, or who have been subjected to these behaviors, you can notify your manager. They may not be aware, but once their attention has been directed towards the behaviors, they may be able to prevent further harassment.
Some behaviors border sexual harassment, but can still cause significant stress and discomfort to employees who are uncertain if the behaviors legally constitute sexual harassment. For employers and employees alike, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. How far does a behavior need to continue before it is considered sexual harassment?
Often, nipping these borderline inappropriate actions in the bud can contribute to a safer workplace, and prevent sexual harassment claims from occurring. Here are some behaviors that may be considered inappropriate, though not strictly illegal:
- Holding conversations while standing too close the victim, or ignoring their efforts to create space between themselves and the speaker.
- Jokes that are off-color, or even outright dirty.
- Requests to meet outside of work.
- Making frequent or repeated comments about one’s appearance, whether positive or not.
- Asking too many questions about one’s personal life, preferences, or other details.
How Can Employees Combat Borderline Sexual Harassment?
While it should never fall to employees to handle sexual harassment, you may be able to discourage inappropriate conduct from crossing the line. If you suspect that your particular situation is legally defined as sexual harassment, don’t hesitate to make the report to your superior, or a higher up in the company if needed. Similarly, don’t hesitate to report inappropriate behavior or seek legal advice before it becomes more of an issue.
Get Help from Our Memphis Employment Lawyers – (901) 209-5500
Sexual harassment, no matter how serious, deserves to be addressed. As an employee, you have the right to be protected from an uncomfortable, hostile workplace. If your employer fails to take appropriate actions to protect you, our team at Donati Law, PLLC is ready to help. With more than 100 years of collective experience, our Memphis employment law attorneys are well equipped to fight for you.
Schedule a consultation to discuss your case today. Contact our team online, or call (901) 209-5500.