What to do if you have been sexually harassed at work

Sexual harassment at work is still a problem across the United States. The #MeToo movement has shown us that even celebrities and other VIPs are not immune to sexual harassment. Organizations and lawmakers have done a lot of work to fix the problem, but it still happens. Sex discrimination is a serious issue. Everyone should be able to work without fear of their boss or co workers (or even a customer) sexually harassing them at their place of work. Anti discrimination laws are in place to protect us from workplace sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment victims have options

But victims of workplace sexual harassment have options. This guide is intended to give you an overview of what to do if you have been sexually harassed at work in Illinois.

There are some things you can do all by yourself. However, when it comes to legal matters (such as filing a lawsuit), that’s something you should talk to a sexual harassment lawyer about.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is any unwelcome sexual advances, sexual behavior that creates an uncomfortable, hostile, or offensive work environment. This includes verbal and physical conduct like unwanted touching. Sexual harassment can happen to the opposite sex, or the same sex.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment in the workplace includes unwanted physical conduct, such as touching or hugging or other sexual advances. It also includes any inappropriate comments, such as sexual jokes or innuendos.

It can also include displaying sexually suggestive photos, making suggestive comments about someone’s physical appearance, or sending unwanted emails, texts, or other electronic messages of a sexual nature.

Types of workplace sexual harassment

There are two types of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo, and hostile work environment. An employee could face both types of sexual harassment at the same time, or just one type.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an individual in a position of power, such as a supervisor, offers an employee a benefit or promotion in exchange for sexual favors. Literally, it is Latin for “this for that.” It is an abuse of power and is illegal. It includes the proposition of “I’ll give you a promotion in exchange for a promotion”, or other favorable work assignments.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment

A hostile work environment harassment is when an employee experiences unwanted sexual conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it affects the employee’s ability to do their job. This could include inappropriate touching, repeated offensive comments, or other behaviors that create an intimidating or offensive work environment.

A single inappropriate touch might be enough to create a hostile work environment. However, a series of inappropriate verbal comments is usually necessary to create a hostile work environment. In other words, the law considers physical touching to be worse than verbal comments.

Not all behaviors of a sexual nature in the workplace are considered sexual harassment. For example, two coworkers flirting in a consensual manner would not be considered

Report sexual harassment to your employer

If you face workplace sexual harassment, you should tell your employer as soon as possible. Do not let the harasser get away with their behavior. Telling your employer is often the first step before you can take legal action. The way you tell your employer will depend on the situation. 

If the harasser is your supervisor, then you should tell your human resources department or the business owner. If there is no human resources department department, then go straight to the business owner. Be careful if the harasser is the business owner—confront them in a safe way such as over the phone or through email if you think there is a chance of danger.

If the harasser is a co-worker or customer, then the law typically requires you to tell your employer about the harassment. You can do this in writing—an email or text message will do. Keep proof of the message. 

It might also make sense to notify your employer with other employees present. That way there is a witness to the notification. If you do tell your employer verbally, then you can follow up with an email recapping what was said.

Try to send the email notification from your personal email. If you send it from your work email, they might be able to disable or delete it.

Your company’s sexual harassment policy might have procedures on how to report sexual harassment. In addition, you can reach out to your union representative if you’re in a union.

Other things you might want to do after you report sexual harassment is to keep records of your personnel file, records of job performance, performance evaluations, and copies of company policy related to your job duties.

Keep telling your employer until the harassment stops. Telling your employer about the harassment is an important step to take. If you feel uncomfortable with telling them on your own, a sexual harassment lawyer can assist with telling your employer about workplace sexual harassment. Reporting sexual harassment is never easy, but it’s a necessary first step.

Seek Professional Mental Health Treatment 

Sexual harassment in the workplace can have a negative affect on your mental health. The average worker spends around eight hours per day at work. That is a lot of time to be exposed to sexual harassment. Even if you don’t think your mental health is impacted by it, it can still be taking a toll on you in the background. 

Mental health counseling or therapy can help you to process and work through the experience, and to build resilience and self-esteem. Your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for employees to access confidential counseling services. Ask your HR department about the EAP. 

Your health insurance plan may also cover counseling or therapy, so check with them to see what your coverage includes. Finding the right therapist for you is essential, so be sure to research and read reviews. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has good advice on finding a therapist that is right for you. 

Reaching out for support can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Unfortunately, sexual harassment at work is more common than you think. Professional mental health treatment can help you to process and move through the experience of workplace sexual harassment, and to start to heal.

File an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint

Another powerful option you have is to file a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal government agency that investigates claims of workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment. They are the federal agency that enforces the Title VII of Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will investigate your workplace sexual harassment claim and determine if there is substantial evidence of sexual harassment. As a government agency, they will take your complaint seriously. If they find substantial evidence, then your case will be sent to a hearing.

You do not need a lawyer to file a claim with the EEOC, but you should definitely have a lawyer if your case goes to a hearing. 

The EEOC hearing process is similar to court proceedings but there are some key differences. For instance, there will only be a judge deciding your case at the EEOC and there is no option for a jury to hear your case. You may be able to recover monetary damages and confront the person who has harassed you by cross-examining them.

Discovery still happens in an EEOC case. Discovery is the exchange of documents and other evidence (such as video recordings), as well as depositions of you, the harasser, and any other witnesses.

If the EEOC doesn’t find substantial evidence, then they will give you a “right to sue” letter. The right to sue letter just means that you cannot proceed using the EEOC procedure, but must file a sexual harassment complaint in court.

Other government agencies

An important distinction between filing a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission instead of state court is that the EEOC will apply federal law instead of state law. State laws may give you more rights than what federal law provides. You should check to see if there is a state agency that handles sexual harassment complaints. Many states have their own anti discrimination laws.

Filing a claim with the EEOC is free and there are many offices located around the country. You can find your local office here. An EEOC counselor can help you file your claim if you need assistance. Don’t let this powerful tool go to waste. Consider filing an EEOC claim if you’re a victim of sexual harassment at work. Talk to a lawyer when you’re ready to file a complaint with the EEOC.

File a Civil Lawsuit

If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, filing a civil lawsuit is an effective and powerful way to seek justice. Not only could you get compensated for your suffering, but you’ll also get to confront your harasser in court. While there is no legal requirement that you hire an attorney, you definitely should. Things in court can get complicated very fast. Filing a legal complaint is an effective way to make the harassment stop.

Once both sides have exchanged all the documents related to the case (known as “discovery”), depositions may also occur. During your deposition, you’ll be asked questions under oath and your lawyer will help you prepare for it. Plus, you may also attend your harasser’s deposition and witness them answer questions. 

After discovery, the case will go to trial (but most cases settle long before trial). If you win the trial then a judge can award you damages for emotional distress and lost wages.

Although less common, a judge can also award punitive damages. The legal definition of “punitive damages” are damages meant to punish the harasser and send a message to others.

When you’ve been sexually harassed at work, seeking legal action is a path to justice. Get legal help from a sexual harassment lawyer to file a lawsuit.

Get legal help from an employment attorney

When you hire a lawyer, they’ll handle your case on a contingency fee basis – meaning you won’t have to pay a dime unless you win. They will know the ins and outs of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts.

The process can be lengthy and complicated, but your lawyer will be there to guide you through every step of the way. The sexual harassment lawyers at Justice Legal Counsel are ready to answer your questions and take on your case. Our attorneys will give you a legal perspective that you can use.

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