Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Notwithstanding the fact that sexual harassment is unlawful under both federal and New York State law, it continues to invade the American workplace. Researchers concluded that 50% of women will be (or have been) sexually harassed at some point during their academic or working life.
Sexual harassment in the workplace has severe economic and psychological consequences. For example, it is well documented that victims of sexual harassment suffer from stress symptoms, including feelings of powerlessness, fear, anger, nervousness, decreased job satisfaction and diminished ambition.
Although Sexual harassment is based on sex, it isn’t necessarily about sex. It is often an abuse of power – the power that a supervisor wields over a subordinate; or an individual’s quest for power over a co-worker.
While most sexual harassment cases involve male supervisors and female subordinates, sexual harassment can also occur when the female is in a supervisory role, or when two individuals are of the same gender, or when neither is in a supervisory position. The law also forbids sexual harassment of employees by individuals not employed by the company such as customers, vendors or contractors.
Sexual harassment is classified into two categories. The first category is called quid pro quo, a Latin phrase meaning “something in exchange for something else.” The second category is known as hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment typically involves an abuse of power in which the submission to unwelcome sexual advances, verbal or physical abuse, or requests for sexual favors is expected in exchange for continued employment or some other benefit of employment like a raise or promotion. It is important to realize that an employee’s submission to the requested conduct does not necessarily mean the harassing conduct was welcome or lawful; or that the employee’s submission was voluntary or consensual. Rather, it is the abuse of power and influence over the victim of this form of sexual harassment that effectively negates any consent and renders the harassing conduct unlawful.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when there are unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive work environment.
Generally, sexual harassment is any repeated and unwanted verbal, nonverbal, or physical advance of a sexual nature by someone in the workplace, which interferes with the enjoyment of work, the ability to do work, or employment opportunities.
A sexually hostile work environment can be created by:
Unwanted comments, jokes, propositions or innuendos of a sexual nature
Repeated looks, leering or gestures
Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching, rubbing or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waist, the “friendly” arm around the shoulder or “accidental” brushes or touches
Interfering with or impeding an employee’s ability to move
Repeated requests for dates or unwanted flirting
Transmitting or posting of e-mails, text messages or pictures of a sexual nature
Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, videos or posters
Playing sexually suggestive music
You Have Every Right to Complain
Often times the victim of sexual harassment is afraid to complain or reluctant to rebuff the harasser’s conduct for fear of retaliation, being outcast or branded “thin-skinned” or “prudish”. Remember, however, that sexual harassment is not about sex. It’s about an abuse of power. And you have every right to expect that your workplace is free from abuse and sexual harassment.