Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. However, it is sadly common in the United States. According to official data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), more than 24,000 people filed a sexual harassment claim in 2020 alone. The number of people who fail to report harassment may be far more significant, as most victims are afraid to exercise their rights for three main reasons.
They don’t know their rights
Some employees experience sexual harassment without knowing they have the right to stop it. Employers are supposed to inform their employees about the issue of sexual harassment and potential solutions through the company’s policies. Some fail to do this, resulting in employees not knowing about their rights.
According to federal and state laws, workplace harassment is forbidden. Employees who suffer from it can file a complaint with the EEOC to make it stop. If the employer refuses to fix the problem, the EEOC or the victim can take the matter to court and sue the employer for damages.
They think they don’t have a case
Some employees know they can file a harassment claim, but they don’t do so because they don’t know if they have a valid case. A common misunderstanding is that a person can only file a claim if the harassment is aggressive or extreme, but that is not true. The EEOC considers harassment as any unwelcome conduct against a person based on their race, religion, sex, etc. Concrete actions that constitute harassment are:
- Offensive jokes or slurs
- Pressure for dates or sexual favors
- Unwelcome comments about a person’s religion, race or sex
- Physical touching
- Ridicule or mockery
Petty slights or an isolated accident (unless extreme) may not arise to the level of illegality. For a harassment claim to be valid, you must prove that enduring the offense has become a condition of your employment or that the offense is severe enough to cause a hostile work environment.
They fear retaliation
The third reason employees commonly fail to file a complaint with the EEOC is that they fear that their employer will take revenge on them. Under the law, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a claim or for helping the EEOC with an investigation. If an employer does this, they are subject to a lawsuit from the EEOC. Actions that constitute retaliation include firing an employee, denying them benefits, refusing an earned promotion, or lowering their salary.
If you are a victim of workplace harassment, you can put a stop to it without suffering any negative consequences. You should first talk to your employer about the problem. They are supposed to fix the situation, but you can file a complaint against them with the EEOC if they don’t. You have the power to stop this unacceptable behavior and, if necessary, you can seek justice in court.