Some of the most powerful men in the country have recently been outed as perpetrators of sexual assault. Harvey Weinstein assaulted and outright raped a number of actresses, threatening to end their careers if they told anyone, and “boost their careers” if they gave him sexual favors. Bill O’Reilly was forced out of Fox News after several sexual assault allegations were brought forth. And the current president of the United States was caught on tape saying “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything […] Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
These major stories evince the degree to which sexism and sexual assault have been normalized and swept under the rug. For this reason, it is important to discuss the ways in which these behaviors exist on a daily basis – specifically in the workplace where many of us spend our days – and to understand the federal regulations against such behavior.
To begin with, as noted on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) website, harassment can happen in number of different contexts. In most cases, it is men who harass feminine people (cis-gendered/transgendered women and non-binary people), but sexual harassment can occur in other directions as well, meaning the victim can be someone who doesn’t identify as a woman.
Anyone Can Be a Harasser
The same logic applies to the harasser. This person can be any gender. Additionally, they can be anyone in or near the facility where you work. This means the harasser could be your boss, a colleague, a delivery person or anyone else who happens to be on the premises. The bottom line is this: the harasser must be engaged in behavior that is not welcomed. This means that a harasser’s behavior could be directed at one person but negatively affect another person in the vicinity. That person (the bystander) is still considered a victim of sexual harassment
Examples of Behavior
Sexual harassment can take a variety of forms. For starters, not all sexual harassment comes in the form of a sexual advance. According to the EEOC, this type of behavior can include, for instance, offensive comments made about women. Of course, sexual harassment might also include soliciting sexual favors, unwelcomed physical touching or unsolicited sexual speech. In some cases, a person might make a habit out of repeating offensive remarks in a seemingly non-intrusive manner. Over time, these comments could effectively produce an unsafe environment. This is also a form of harassment and is illegal.
As observed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), sexual harassment is precluded by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because sexual harassment amounts to a form of sex discrimination, which the law prohibits. Specifically, the AAUW divides sexual harassment into two types. One type involves the creation of a hostile environment, which we touched on. The other type involves a quid pro quo request. In this case, a boss might ask an employee for sexual favors, offering a pay raise or other benefits in return, or threatening to fire the victim if they fail to acquiesce. This was one of the infractions alleged against Weinstein.
As per EEOC regulations, your employer should have an internal mechanism for handling sexual harassment complaints. You can file a complaint this way, if you feel you’ve been harassed. If your employer does not have a channel for making a complaint, you can file a claim with the EEOC, who may pursue action on your behalf. Generally speaking, you have 180 days to file such a claim.
As noted by the AAUW, there are other things to consider prior to filing a claim or after you a file a claim. As it can be difficult to face sexual harassment alone, it is helpful to reach out to your support network, whether it’s friends or family. It’s also a good idea to keep records of your work and the discriminatory behavior in question.
If you have any technical or legal questions pertaining to sexual harassment charges, you should consult an attorney with experience in employment law.