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Workplace Sexual Harassment Law: The Basics

by Layla Bryant

When you are at work, one of the last things you want to experience is workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is upsetting, to begin with, but to experience it at work where you cannot just up and leave can be another type of devastating. Fortunately, there are laws in place to combat workplace sexual harassment.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

You may have experienced some sexual harassment at work, but you are wondering if it "counts" as sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is identified through three main properties. Those properties include:

  • Unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances. These advances can include unwanted touching, unwanted provocative photos, or someone exposing themselves to an unwilling participant.
  • Asking for sexual favors. A good example of this is if an employer says they will give an employee a raise or promotion in exchange for sexual relations or vice versa.
  • Other harassment (verbal or physical). An example can include being called provocative names, being told unwanted stories about sexual relations, or jokes about someone's sex life or sexual orientation.

It is hard to include every possibility, but a good rule of thumb is if you feel like you have experienced sexual harassment, then you have probably experienced sexual harassment.

What Is Workplace Sexual Harassment Law?

There are laws in place that protect you from being sexually harassed in the workplace. The exact laws and/or punishments will vary depending on the state you are in, but there is a federal law in place that makes sexual harassment illegal. Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered sex discrimination and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender, race, age, etc. Many state laws will go more in-depth and give you the right to sue your harasser. 

What to do When Experiencing Workplace Sexual Harassment

If you are experiencing sexual harassment, the first thing you want to do is tell your harasser to stop and get yourself out of the situation. The next step is to document everything to ensure that you have concrete evidence.

You should report any instances of sexual harassment to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer will be in the position to handle the situation. Your employer will have the choice to provide more education to employees about sexual harassment in the workplace, writing up the harasser, suspending or terminating the harasser, etc. 

If you do report your harassment to your employer and they do not address the situation, you do have the option to hire a workplace sexual harassment lawyer. This lawyer will be able to look at your evidence and, if applicable, help you file a lawsuit against the harasser and/or the employer if they did not take action after your report. This lawyer can also be there for guidance when you do file a report.