Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination is prohibited in the workplace, whether on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color, or religion. This prohibition includes sexual harassment which is defined as a form of discrimination that comes in the form of requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or other conduct that is sexual in nature, whether verbal or physical. Though sexual harassment can be experienced in a number of different forms, from a legal perspective there are two different types of sexual harassment from which a person can seek protection. They are quid pro quo harassment and a hostile work environment.
- Quid pro quo harassment is when an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances that are tied to their employment status. This means that submission to the behavior, whether through accepting verbal conduct or physical sexual advances, is either implicitly or explicitly a basis for employment status such as being hired, the wages you are paid, the possibility of promotion, or keeping your job.
- Hostile work environment is when unwelcome sexual advances or verbal or physical conduct create a workplace environment that is hostile, intimidating or offensive. This can include overt acts such as asking for sexual favors or any other factors that interfere with the employee’s ability to do their work. When considering whether a work environment is hostile, there are several common elements that generally occur, including either physical or verbal behaviors that are frequently repeated, whether the behaviors are patently offensive or openly hostile, who was subjecting the employee to the behaviors (supervisor or coworker), whether the behavior was perpetrated by a single person or others participated as well, and whether the behavior was towards a single person or more than one person.
Over the past two decades, sexual harassment in the workplace has been much more openly discussed and acknowledged, but that has not stopped it from happening. It can take many forms, ranging from overt acts such as direct requests for sexual favors or bribes to more subtle behaviors such as brushing against a person or using sexual innuendo. All of these actions can constitute harassment, which can be targeted at either males or females, by males or females. Neither perpetrator nor victim need to be of the opposite sex, and the harasser does not always need to be a supervisor in order for an employee to be affected by the behaviors.
Filing charges of sexual harassment can be intimidating: many people fear retaliation for speaking out, but Title VII protects victims. If you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment and would like to learn more about filing a sexual harassment claim, there are several steps that need to be taken, including consulting your employee handbook to determine what policies your company has in place, speaking with your supervisor, and filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Your best first steps are to write down a specific record of the behaviors that are bothering you and seek assistance and counsel from an experienced sexual harassment attorney. The Philadelphia law firm of Bochetto & Lentz has a successful record of protecting victim’s rights, and can provide you with the information that you need in a compassionate, understanding, and safe environment.