Women & Sexual Harassment At The Workplace. Silence is Not Always Golden.
August 20, 2018 – Sometimes it starts with something that may seem as innocent as an introductory handshake perhaps a few seconds too long. Sometimes it’s his hand grazing her arm or shoulder while commending her on her hard work. Sometimes it’s a quick wink or what he claims is a friendly hug. Yet, at other times it could be something more aggressive, such as his nonstop demands to meet with her in his office, but for no real business purpose. It could be his request to have dinner, perhaps a quick drink just as friends. In the most extreme cases, it could be him physically exerting his will on her against every single one of her desires. Any of these sound familiar?
Sexual harassment in the workplace exists, and it exists in many forms. And with victims often too frightened to speak up, the actual number of women subjected to sexual harassment at the workplace is even more than we think. Although it is natural to fear termination or judgment, a victim should never be afraid to speak up and stand up for herself and other women in the workplace. Indeed, silence is not always golden.
State and federal laws generally prohibit any form of sexual harassment in the workplace. The more common forms are known as quid pro quo and hostile work environment. As its name would seem to suggest, quid pro quo harassment consists of unwelcome demands for sexual favors in return for advancement or other benefits in the workplace. On the other hand, a hostile work environment consists of sexually motivated derogatory comments in the workplace. One is not exclusive of the other. And although many women often convince themselves, “It probably won’t happen again,” even a single act may amount to sexual harassment.
What do I do if I believe I have been sexually harassed?
Fortunately, the same laws that prohibit harassment also generally prohibit retaliation against those females who either reject unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace, or those who complain about the sexually hostile work environment. This is true if the complaints are made directly to the actual harasser or some other individual in a managerial position or with the ability to take the necessary steps to end the harassment. Though it may be easier said than done, these laws should empower female employees to speak up.
Although most employment is considered “at-will,” employers cannot subject an employee to an adverse employment action due to an unlawful reason or a legally protected activity. Indeed, although speaking up or rejecting unwelcome sexual advances could have negative consequences (e.g. a demotion, a cut in hours/pay, a negative evaluation, or even a termination), it does not mean that the employer has the right to subject an employee who has asserted her rights.
Just a small reminder that both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can also be of the same sex. If you believe you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual harassment or retaliation at the workplace, you should immediately consult with an attorney since time may be of the essence. Simply stated, state laws set certain deadlines for you to take action and waiting too long may not only result in you being left without any legal recourse, but the possibility that the harasser may one day do worse to another.
Remember, silence is not always golden. In fact, silence equals acceptance. It is important to stand up not only for yourself, but to help make a difference in the world.
Know your rights,