Sexual Harassment and the Law*
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim, as well as the harasser, may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
It is helpful for the victim to directly inform th harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechansm or grievance system available.
When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
Filing A Complaint
- Anyone who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. This charge can also be filed by an individual, organization or agency on behalf of another person to protect their identity.
- Charges can be filed by mail or in person at the nearest EEOC office. Individuals can all 800 669-4000 (voice) or 800 669-6820 (TTY) to contact the nearest EEOC office for more information on filing procedures.
- All laws enforced the EEOC, except the Equal Pay Act, require filing a charge with the EEOC before a private lawsuit may be filed in court.
*Information compiled from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.