What is Sexual Harassment and Why Do I Need to Know?

By | July 11, 2011

Have you ever been the victim of sexual harassment at work? For many people, the question isn’t necessarily “yes,” or “no,” but unfortunately, a simple “I don’t know.” That’s because far too many people aren’t sure what exactly constitutes sexual harassment. After all, how do you filter out normal banter with colleagues from what truly constitutes harassment and discrimination? Well, if you keep reading, you might be able to find the answers.

First, it will be important for us to set a definition of sexual harassment – then we’ll go through these definitions and provide examples of what it might look like in the first place. If at any time these scenarios sound like something you’ve gone through, be sure to pay attention to the second section in this article where we’ll discuss your legal recourses and options to sexual harassment.

After all, you do need to know what sexual harassment is not only so you can identify the problem, but so that you understand what strategies are best to use in solving these problems. Throughout this article, pay attention to the circumstances and issues that hit close to home and you’ll have a more solid footing on which you can further take action against sexual harassment.

And if you’re a boss or simply a working professional – of either gender – it will be important for you to understand what constitutes sexual harassment as well so as to better govern your own behavior. Even good people can unwittingly have negative effects on others, and that’s exactly what we want to avoid. So let’s get to it.

Defining Sexual Harassment: You Know It When You See It?

One of the most difficult things for people interacting in the office environment in this day and age is knowing what exactly constitutes sexual harassment under the law. Where do you draw the line? Are some people simply making jokes that aren’t going over well, or does the harassment run even deeper than you might have thought?

These crucial questions are part of ensuring that you can achieve the first step in fighting sexual harassment: diagnosis. Like solving a medical problem, diagnosing sexual harassment is the first step in actually making progress. Without an accurate “legal diagnosis,” you can’t be sure that you have any real legal ground to stand on.

So let’s define sexual harassment. Put quite simply, any type of negative behavior that involves discrimination or bullying of a sexual nature would fall under the umbrella of “sexual harassment.” Harassment can include bullying, teasing, or any type of coercive behavior. More problematic yet are issues pertaining to using power in the workplace in order to illicit a sexual reaction from the victimized party.

Because sexual harassment can fall under a large number of different behaviors and coercions, it’s important to realize that an action can still constitute sexual harassment even if the behavior isn’t what one would consider “stereotypical” sexual harassment. As long as someone feels harassed and they have evidence that this was indeed the case, then there may be legal recourse for them to pursue.

What are some examples of sexual harassment? Let’s look at a few scenarios:

  • A colleague is told that she has to sleep with and/or grant sexual favors to certain people in order to advance at a company
  • An employee is teased or bullied on the basis of their gender – and this can certainly go both ways
  • Inappropriate touching, groping, or other unwanted sexual advances in an office setting

If you’ve experienced any of these scenarios, then there’s a good chance that you’ve been sexually harassed.

But now that you know how to identify this type of harassment, what can you do about it? That’s exactly the question we’ll tackle in the next section, where we finally talk about solutions for these problems.

Solutions and Legal Avenues: How to Respond to Sexual Harassment

Here are tips for dealing with sexual harassment:

  • Tip #1: Collect evidence. How can you ever have a case if you aren’t able to prove that you were ever harassed in the first place? There are difficulties with cases in which they could be described as a “he-said, she-said” type scenario: if it’s your word against theirs, you don’t have a lot of footing to stand on. That’s why it’s important to gather all the evidence you have available and to document what happened in your life that led you to want to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
  • Tip #2: Find a witness to corroborate your story. It’s important that you avoid the aforementioned he-said-she-said scenario by making sure that other people can attest to the harassment you’ve received. For example, if you are able to identify witnesses that saw and remember you being teased by co-workers on the basis of sex, then those people can add invaluable contributions to your case.
  • Tip #3: Talk to a lawyer before making any major career moves. As tempting as it might be to ditch your job and get out of Dodge, you’ll want to make sure that you speak with a lawyer about your options before you make any major career or life decisions. You want to know that you have a case – as well as what you might need to gather in order to build a case.

These tips are great ways to understand what goes into building a case – but if you have a sexual harassment lawsuit in the works, this article is just another step in what could be a long journey. So make sure that you’re willing to stick with it, empower your lawyer, and build your case.

Sexual harassment has no place in modern society, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for making people face the justice system for their actions. Too many people “let it slide” because they don’t want to disturb other peoples’ lives. But sexual harassment is not a trivial issue; and if you don’t let it happen to you, the chances are that in the future, it won’t.

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