In recent months, many courageous women have come forward publicly with accusations of sexual harassment against well-known men in politics, media, entertainment, and business (see here). Whether the harassment happened recently or decades ago, victims (women or men) should stand up and take action to prevent sexual harassment against themselves and others.
Sexual Harassment Is Commonplace
You’re in an elevator and your co-worker says, “You sure look good in those pants.” You think the compliment is too forward and you’re not interested in a relationship with this guy, so you pretend you didn’t hear him. A few days later, you run into him again in the same elevator, and today it’s crowded. He’s standing right next to you.
This time he smiles at you, quietly puts his hand on your thigh, slowly slides it up to your rear end, and holds it there for a few seconds. The doors open, he winks at you and exits. You’re shocked–and disgusted–but didn’t say anything to avoid making a scene. Instead, you gave him a dirty look so he knew you didn’t approve.
From this point on, you avoid the co-worker like an infectious disease. You quickly find that your efforts to avoid him disrupt your work rhythm and lead to awkward situations and conversations with other co-workers. Your performance slackens and friends wonder if something is wrong. You consider reporting the harassment to human resources but decide you don’t want to appear weak or make a big deal of it.
But then the perpetrator strikes again. As you pass each other in a narrow hallway, he deliberately grabs your hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. You’ve had enough and report his behavior to HR. Unfortunately, the HR manager says she can do nothing to help because you can’t prove he did what you say. You tell your supervisor. He says you need to report it to HR. What do you do now? Stay silent? Tell a friend? Call the police? Contact a lawyer?
Sexual harassment like this is much too common in the workplace. From 2010 to 2016, the federal EEOC received an average of 7,289 complaints each year, which doesn’t include reports to state and local agencies. That number also doesn’t include sexual harassment that isn’t reported.
Is Sexual Harassment Really That Bad?
Yes, it is that bad. Sexual harassment is debasing and humiliating. It denigrates your self worth and is based on a faulty assumption that your body is only a tool for the pleasure of others rather than a home for your intellect, personality, and soul. Sexual harassment is despicable, and in many cases it’s also illegal.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be highly disruptive. It can make you (and others) feel uncomfortable in a variety of situations. No matter how subtle or serious, it isn’t good for you or for your employer (low morale, lawsuits, etc.). You shouldn’t accept sexual harassment as “normal” or something you have to endure to keep your job. You should take a stand and do what you can to stop it–for your benefit and for the benefit of other victims.
What Can You Do to Stop Sexual Harassment?
The first step is to report sexual harassment to your supervisor or HR manager. Employers have a responsibility to take steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring and escalating. Most employers have an anti-sexual harassment policy and specific procedures for addressing it. You might be surprised to learn how willing your employer is to assist you.
To help with reporting, do your best to document details of what happens and when it happens. If possible, find co-workers or others who can serve as witnesses to the harassment. Also, make sure the harasser knows that his or her advances are unwanted.
In the end, if your employer is unwilling to address the harassment or fails to address it adequately, then your next step is to seek help through the law.
How Does the Law Define Sexual Harassment?
The law doesn’t define every advance or sexual comment as sexual harassment. For example, simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t serious in nature aren’t illegal. The harassment has to be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision, such as a firing or demotion. Also, only employers with 15 or more employees can be held responsible for sexual harassment.
In other words, if the sexual harassment you experience isn’t fairly serious, then you’ll have to hope your employer is willing to help you out. But if it is serious, and your employer doesn’t address it, then you might consider contacting an employment lawyer like me to get legal help.
What Is the Legal Process for Stopping Sexual Harassment?
The first step is to contact a good employment attorney in Nevada who can assess your case and guide you through the process, including reviewing your options. For example, an attorney might be able to help you obtain a fair resolution with your employer without having to take legal action. If not, you’ll need to file a complaint with either the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (“NERC”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Depending on what the government agency does, you may eventually need to file a lawsuit. You can learn more about what the process involves here.
The process for seeking help through the law can be long, and sometimes difficult, but you owe it to yourself and to other victims to take action.