No employee should ever have to endure sexual harassment. But if you believe it may have happened to you, it is critical to understand what is considered sexual harassment in the workplace, your employee rights, and what you can do to stop it.
What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment in the workplace is when an applicant or employee is harassed because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include:
- “Sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances.
- Requests for sexual favors.
- Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
These actions become illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work?
Sexual harassment at work can occur in multiple ways, including:
- Verbal sexual harassment
- Sexual harassment through digital communication, including social media
- Non-verbal sexual harassment, including gestures and behavior
- Physical sexual harassment
Additionally, the harassment does not necessarily have to be sexual; it can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. Harassers are more frequently men, but they can be women too. They may also be of the same sex.
It is important to note that employment law does not prohibit offhand comments, simple teasing, or isolated incidents of a sexual nature that may be offensive. These still may be unwanted, but they are not necessarily illegal.
Federal and state laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act, provide protections against workplace sexual harassment, including a wide variety of actions.
Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment Behavior
Sexual harassment in the workplace includes behaviors in all the categories listed above. It is common for the harasser to be in a position of power, such as a supervisor or manager. Still, harassment can be perpetrated by a co-worker/colleague, a business client, a contractor, or a customer.
Types of workplace sexual harassment behavior can include:
- Whistling, catcalls, sexual comments about physique or clothes
- Telling sexual stories or jokes; spreading rumors in the workplace about an employee’s personal sex life
- Sending links to sexually suggestive websites or sending pictures or videos of a sexual nature
- Repeatedly asking an uninterested person out on social media or spreading lies on social media about their sex life, partners, or sexual behaviors
- Making sexual gestures toward a person with hands, face, or other body parts
- Performing harassing or intimidating behavior such as following, blocking a person’s path, looking a person up and down, staring, or suggestively touching oneself in front of a person
This list represents the varying types of behavior that could be considered sexual harassment, but it is not comprehensive. Employees are also protected against related types of behaviors under employment law. If you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment, speak with an employee rights attorney to determine if you have a claim against your employer.
How Do I File a Claim of Workplace Sexual Harassment?
A claim can be filed with the EEOC or filed under the Florida Civil Rights Act. If filed with the EEOC, a charge of discrimination is signed asserting that an employer, union, or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination. This statement requests EEOC to take remedial action and hold your employer accountable for violations of the law.
Submitting a thorough claim is key. The information that may be utilized in a workplace sexual harassment claim includes:
- Dates and times of the incidents.
- The names of those involved, including any witnesses.
- Written requests for the perpetrator to cease sexual harassment.
- Any records related to incident escalation to a supervisor or HR.
Filing can be executed online at the EEOC portal or at a local EEOC office. However, you do not need to navigate this process alone. Your employment attorney can take the lead, prepare the charge and file it for you. You do not need to go to the EEOC before seeking legal counsel. IN fact, it is recommended that you seek counsel, someone to advocate for you throughout the process. Once it is filed, if you and the employer agree, the claim may go to mediation to determine a voluntary settlement. If there is not an agreement., it will go to the investigation phase.
Investigations can take up to months and months but your case can often be settled in mediation in a much shorter time, or through direct negotiations between your counsel and the Employer or its counsel. A sexual harassment attorney is highly skilled in mediation and works exclusively on the employee’s behalf. If the claim is not settled and there is no determination within 180 days of filing, you may elect to pursue your claims through a lawsuit against the Employer. .
When filing a claim, attorneys can work to attain:
- compensatory damages,
- back pay,
- reinstatement to your job if you were fired,
- emotional damages,
- “front pay” (what you would have earned if you were not fired), and
- punitive damages for particularly egregious claims.
Are there Statutes of Limitations to Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim?
Yes. Like other employee rights cases, it is critical to be expedient in filing a claim before the statute of limitations expires. Florida state law allows an employee to file an egregious sexual harassment claim with the EEOC for a maximum of 300 days after the sexual harassment occurred. If a claim is filed under the Florida Civil Rights Act, the state will give you 365 days.
The sooner to claim is filed, the better. Documentation and the statements of potential witnesses can be much more difficult to obtain over an extended period.
When To Contact a Workplace Discrimination Attorney
If you believe you have a case of sexual harassment in the workplace, contact a Florida workplace discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Employees have a right to a safe, harassment-free work environment, and your attorney fights hard for your rights immediately – and each step of the way.
We listen closely and understand the complexity and sensitivity involved in these types of discrimination cases. We are here for you.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.