Any sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome and distressing. However, sexual harassment rises from a mere internal affair to when it leads to an adverse employment decision, or it creates a hostile work environment.
These are two different standards. It is important to recognize the difference between adverse employment actions and hostile work environments so you can take action if you are being sexually harassed at work.
What is an adverse employment action?
An adverse employment action is anything that negatively affects your position in the workplace. Some examples include:
- Reduced pay
- Reduction in benefits
- Job termination
Putting up with sexual harassment cannot become a condition of continued employment. Sexual harassment is illegal even if you do not suffer financial harm or are not ultimately fired from your job for resisting the harassment.
In addition, you cannot be retaliated against by your employer for pursuing a charge with the state or federal government, participating in an investigation into a sexual harassment claim or filing a lawsuit. This is against the law.
What is a hostile work environment?
A hostile work environment is created when the sexual harassment is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable worker would feel intimidated, abused or consider the workplace to have become hostile.
Some examples of offensive sexual harassment include:
- Offensive humor or making fun of the victim
- Name calling or insulting the victim
- Physical altercations
- Threatening or intimidating the victim
- Posting graphic objects or images in the workplace
- Interfering with the victim’s ability to perform their job duties
However, minor annoyances and one-time incidents that are not very serious do not create a hostile work environment.
You have rights if you are being sexually harassed
If you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, you can take action to protect yourself.
In addition to telling the harasser to stop, you can report the harassment to your higher ups or human resources. It is likely there is a procedure in the workplace to stop sexual harassment.
If that does not lead to a satisfactory result, you can file a charge with the appropriate state or federal agency.