What to do about sexual harassment at work

November 26, 2022
By: Charles Lamberton

Contact an employment lawyer right away if you have been or are being sexually harassed at work. An employment lawyer will help you exercise your right to be free from workplace sexual harassment and will help you with legal claims you may have because of the sexual harassment.  Don’t flirt with the harasser or discuss […]

Contact an employment lawyer right away if you have been or are being sexually harassed at work. An employment lawyer will help you exercise your right to be free from workplace sexual harassment and will help you with legal claims you may have because of the sexual harassment. 

Don’t flirt with the harasser or discuss personal matters

Keep your communications about work. Don’t flirt. Don’t laugh it off. Don’t have long text message chats about personal matters. If you are asked personal or sexual questions, either say that they make you uncomfortable or ignore them and re-direct the conversation to work. If the harasser touches you, for example, an arm around you, rubbing your shoulders or neck, a hand on your leg, and certainly any contact with your intimates, move away.

Check your employee handbook and follow the policy

Your employer should have a written policy prohibiting sexual harassment. Usually it is in the Employee Handbook or Personnel Manual, and sometimes you can find it on the company website or internal server where your employer makes all of its employment policies available.

If you can’t find it, ask Human Resources or a supervisor other than the harasser for a copy.

If there is a policy, follow the steps in the policy. The policy should give you various options for reporting the harassment, including the option of filing a complaint.

Typical sexual harassment policies look something like this:

Company is committed to providing a workplace free from sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment is against the law and will not be tolerated. If the Company finds that an allegation of sexual harassment is credible, it will take prompt and effective corrective action.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are sexual harassment when:

  1. An employment decision is made because the individual submitted to or rejected the unwelcome conduct; or
  2. The unwelcome conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.

Certain behaviors, such as conditioning promotions, awards, training or other job benefits upon submission to unwelcome actions of a sexual nature, are always wrong.

Unwelcome actions a sexual nature are inappropriate and may by themselves meet the definition of sexual harassment or contribute to a hostile work environment. Examples could include:

  1. Sexual pranks, or repeated sexual teasing, jokes, or innuendo, in person or via e-mail, text message or other electronic means;
  2. Verbal communications of a sexual nature;
  3. Touching or grabbing of a sexual nature;
  4. Repeatedly standing too close to or brushing up against a person;
  5. Repeatedly asking a person to socialize during off-duty hours when the person has said no or has indicated he or she is not interested (supervisors in particular should be careful not to pressure their employees to socialize);
  6. Giving gifts or leaving objects that are sexually suggestive;
  7. Repeatedly making sexually suggestive gestures;
  8. Making or posting sexually demeaning or offensive pictures, cartoons or other materials in the workplace;
  9. Off-duty, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects the work environment. A victim of sexual harassment can be a man or a woman. The victim can be of the same sex as the harasser. The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, other Company employee, or a non-employee who has a business relationship with the Company.

If the Company receives a complaint of sexual harassment, or has reason to believe sexual harassment is occurring, it will ensure that the matter is promptly investigated and addressed.

If the allegation is determined to be credible, the Company will take immediate and effective measures to end the unwelcome behavior. Under no circumstances will the Company retaliate or permit retaliation against anyone because they have complained of sexual harassment.

It is a violation of both federal law and this policy to retaliate against someone who has reported possible sexual harassment. Violators may be subject to discipline.

Human Resources is the main contact point for questions or concerns about sexual harassment. HR has responsibility for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged sexual harassment. HR is committed to ensuring that all investigations of sexual harassment are conducted in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner.

Supervisors and other responsible Company officials who observe, are informed of, or reasonably suspect incidents of possible sexual harassment must immediately report such incidents to HR, which will either initiate or oversee a prompt investigation. Failure to report such incidents to HR will be considered a violation of this policy and may result in disciplinary action.

HR will provide guidance as needed on investigating and handling the potential harassment. Supervisors should take effective measures to ensure no further apparent or alleged harassment occurs pending completion of an investigation.

The Company will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully).

Employees who have been found by the Company to have subjected another employee to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, whether such behavior meets the legal definition of sexual harassment or not, will be subject to discipline or other appropriate management action. Discipline will be appropriate to the circumstances up to an including termination.

Any employee who believes he or she has been the target of sexual harassment is encouraged to inform the offending person orally or in writing that such conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If the employee does not wish to communicate directly with the offending person, or if such communication has been ineffective, the employee has multiple avenues for reporting allegations of sexual harassment.

Employees are encouraged to report the unwelcome conduct as soon as possible to a responsible Company official. It is usually most effective – although it is not required – that the official be within the employee’s supervisory chain. Responsible Company officials include HR, first- or second-line supervisors, the offending person’s supervisor, managing officers, and others up the chain.

All Company employees, including but not limited to staff, supervisors, and senior officials, are required to comply with this policy. Employees are also expected to behave professionally and to exercise good judgment in work-related relationships, whether with fellow employees, business colleagues, or members of the public with whom they come into contact in the course of official duties.

Further, all employees are expected to take appropriate measures to prevent sexual harassment. Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature should be stopped before it becomes severe or pervasive and rises to a violation of law.

Don’t wait or delay

In many cases, the law requires a reasonably prompt communication from the victim to notify the employer that sexual harassment has occurred.

There are also important deadlines for filing sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), and for filing suit in court. Your employment lawyer will help ensure that you do what you need to do to preserve your claims and not miss any deadlines.