How the Law Prohibits Workplace Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment at work is absolutely unacceptable and illegal. Unfortunately, women all across the country deal with workplace sexual harassment on a regular basis. Menacing gestures, unwanted touching, soliciting sex for a promotion, threats against one’s job in exchange for favors, and even making repeated rude comments and jokes are all legally forbidden but happen nonetheless. Beyond affecting how someone feels about going to work, some victims become emotionally scarred and have to deal with PTSD symptoms, making it important that these charges are taken very seriously.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC), sexual harassment includes “offensive remarks about a person’s sex,” giving the example of “making offensive comments about women in general.” While most sexual harassment is directed at women, it should be noted that the laws extend to protect men, as well. These protections apply to interactions with coworkers, supervisors, and even clients or patrons. This includes same-sex occurrences as well as opposite-sex ones.
State Laws Regarding Sexual Harassment Vary
While there are federal protections in place, such as those found in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, each state also has their own unique set of laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Sadly, some people simply have no regard for the impact that their unwanted advances and inappropriate behaviors have on others, making it necessary to take legal action. When you find yourself in this situation, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the relevant laws in your area.
For example, our law firm practices in Massachusetts, which allows harassment victims 300 days since the last incident to file a legal claim. Whether something disturbing happened once or has been ongoing, victims don’t have to suffer in silence. State law under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and Massachusetts’ general laws provide victims the opportunity to recover compensation for emotional distress, lost wages and back pay, medical benefits, and even punitive damages meant to punish the harasser.
Our state typically breaks sexual harassment up into two types:
Quid pro Quo
“Quid pro quo” is Latin for “this for that.” These cases cover requests that promise something in exchange for something else, often sexual favors. For example, sexual advances that promise a promotion if they’re reciprocated would be considered a quid pro quo situation. The employee has to prove this, however.
Hostile Work Environment
This category applies to certain behaviors that create an offensive workplace that interferes with your work. These could be unwanted incidents that are sexually offensive, hostile, humiliating, or intimidating. For example, a supervisor might belittle your intelligence or competence because he has a backwards view that believes male employees are inherently more capable.
Missouri Sexual Harassment Laws
By comparison, sexual harassment in Missouri is prohibited under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which distinguishes between sexual harassment and gender-based harassment. Sexual harassment is essentially defined as a form of discrimination that hinges on sexually explicit acts. If submitting to or rejecting a sexual advance or any sexual physical or verbal contact is made a condition of your employment, the basis of an employment decision affecting you, or creating a hostile work environment, then you have been sexually harassed.
Gender-based harassment, on the other hand, is not based on sexually explicit actions or conduct. It involves any negative speech, stereotyping, behavior, or writing that discriminates against someone based on gender to the point that a hostile work environment is created. Gender-based harassment is considered comparable to racial harassment and taken just as seriously under Missouri law.
Reporting Harassment to Human Resources
If your company has an HR department, make sure to report the harassment to them. Document everything you say with the date and any notes of the meeting. While going to HR does not always work to stop the abuse, it helps to establish a documentation trail that can be used to support your case should legal action be necessary later.
In the event that HR is hostile or completely unhelpful, make sure to document this, as well. Write a personal memo that you email to yourself and a trusted confidante so that you have dated documentation with details and a witness who can attest to your concerns at the time.
Stopping the Behavior
No one should have to live with sexual harassment. Laws are in place to protect you and to help stop harmful behavior. If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, an experienced attorney can help you take matters into your own hands when HR or your employer can’t—or won’t—help.
No woman has to accept harassment, and it’s important to know that the law will be on your side when you stand up for yourself.