Unwanted sexual advances have been an unfortunate part of society for millennia, but when men and women began integrating together into the workplace, that harassment was taken to a new level. Sexual innuendos became a regular conversation piece, sexual favors were used as threats for bargaining tools, and the feeling that you had to put up with harassment or face retaliation become commonplace.
No matter where in the world you work, you face a risk of being sexually harassed. Even news companies as big as CNN have studied this epidemic. The recent #MeToo movement made it clear that no one is immune to sexual harassment, and that it can occur on the street, in the workplace, and anywhere in between.
But what isn’t always clear are the laws against this type of harassment and how to actually get it to stop without being punished yourself.
In California and elsewhere in the United States, the laws against sexual harassment are constantly evolving. California follows the federal sex discrimination law against workplace harassment in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the State’s own Fair Employment and Housing Act. So what exactly does it mean to be sexually harassed and what should you do if it happens to you?
What is Sexual Harassment?
There’s a long, ever-evolving list of behaviors that can fall under the category of sexual harassment. But the basic definition is that sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct (including verbal, visual, and physical) of a sexual nature that makes the work environment hostile.
Sexual harassment in California also includes the category of sexual orientation. If you are being harassed because of your perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, pregnancy and childbirth, or other similar gender biases, your gender-based harassment is considered sexual harassment in the workplace.
While it’s true that men are victims of sexual harassment as well as women, the statistics state that women are globally more likely to be a target than men.
The most recent numbers reported by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that a growing number of sexual harassment allegations have been reported over the years, with 7,609 in 2018. Of these allegations, 15.9% were made by males.
But while the reports of harassment are going up, the percentage of accusations made by men is going down. This could be due to a reduction in men feeling harassed, or it could be an indication that less men feel comfortable admitting to harassment in current society.
High-Risk, Work-Related Factors for Harassment
No matter what your job is, you should not have to expect to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances or conduct. It’s your right as a citizen of the United States and common sense as a decent human being. But even though you shouldn’t have to deal with it, the fact is that some work-related factors put you at higher risk for sexual harassment, such as:
- Jobs that put you in isolation from others – The farther you are from witnesses, the greater your chances of being sexually harassed are, whether you are male or female. Those who work in positions where they rarely interact with others, such as hotel cleaning staff, health care industry staff, and workers in food service employment are at higher risk, for example, than those who work visibly in busy shops.
Isolating their target victim helps the attacker feel safer to instigate harassment, assault, or even rape without fear of witnesses.
- Jobs in which you work for tips. The majority of allegations of harassment made to the EEOC annually come from those who work in industries in which tips account for a portion of their income. These jobs include housekeepers and waitstaff, as well as anyone who relies on tips to supplement their below-minimum wage pay.
Since tips make up a huge majority of these workers’ incomes, they tend to put up with harassment by their customers or clients until it’s significant.
- Jobs in a predominantly one-gender dominated industry. Yes, it should be an equal opportunity employment opening no matter where you work, but some jobs are still considered masculine or feminine. And when you’re lucky enough to bust glass ceilings and score a job in an opposite-gender dominated field, you are often rewarded for that hard work with gender or sexually based harassment.
Male-dominated fields such as construction work and law enforcement are common grounds for gender sexual harassment, and female-dominated fields such as education and nursing turn the tables around and see gender and sexual harassment against men, as well.
- Jobs in which there are significant level differences along the ladder of success. Workplace harassment is commonly seen in companies where there is a major power base difference. Large companies with senior executives in charge of the rise from the bottom to the top of the ladder are the perfect place for harassers to explore the opportunity to extort sexual favors in exchange for career growth.
This is also seen in any situation in which there is a senior and a junior position, such as professor/student, doctor/intern, or any other relationship with a dominant power on one side. These are often referred to as “rainmakers,” or people who don’t think they must follow the laws because of their significant perceived power.
- People who work in the country without proper documentation. The United States has a lot of undocumented workers struggling to make a better life for themselves and their family. There are also many people on temporary work visas who worry about those visas being taken away from them.
These people are also at a higher risk of sexual harassment or assault because their harasser understands their fear of being deported if they don’t stay under the radar. The victim is less likely to report the harassment or attack because of fear of losing their job or, worse, their place in the country. It’s an extra scary situation for them.
Just because you work in a higher-risk position, though, doesn’t mean that you don’t have rights. All sexual harassment creates consequences that must be addressed and stopped.
It’s a Crime with Long-Term Effects
If you are or have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you are likely still feeling the consequences. People who have been harassed or assaulted report both mental and physical effects. They also suffer other costs to their families, careers, and long-term advancement.
While you as an individual must forge your own path to recovery in your own way, hiring a sexual discrimination attorney like Hershey Law can help you stop the perpetrator from hurting others, give you the closure you need to begin healing, and aid you financially as you continue along your career while still recovering from the harassment.
Victims of sexual harassment often suffer long-term effects, such as:
- Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or other mental health conditions,
- Increased illnesses or exacerbated chronic conditions because of the strain that ongoing harassment has on the person’s sleep, nutrition, and overall health,
- Physical injury either from the assault itself or from accidents that occur due to the distraction of worrying about the harassment,
- Diminished career aspects due to delays from leaving their job/project/career/role because of harassment,
- Financial consequences from feeling forced to leave their job because of harassment or being fired for gender or sexual-based discrimination.
Sexual harassment isn’t “part of the job.” It isn’t a “boys will be boys” behavior that they will “grow out of.” It’s a crime, and it must be pursued and prosecuted as one.
The Legal Consequences
The good news for many victims of sexual harassment is that they do have rights. There are legal ramifications that go along with stepping up and accusing their tormentor, as long as they take the right steps.
When you as the victim document the harassing behaviors and work with an attorney to create a formal charge of harassment, the harasser will have to face the legal consequences of their actions.
These consequences start in the form of legal fees, but they also create lesser costs that add up in their company. Hiring an employee to take over your position should you decide to leave or paying your absence fees while the charges are being worked out, dealing with reduced productivity and turnover from other employees who learn about the allegations, and overall company disruption will also be a financial pinch that the perpetrator will feel.
Beyond these costs, if they are found guilty or decide to attempt a settlement to reduce their risk, they may have to pay damages to you. These settlements are frequently kept confidential for the sake of both parties’ privacy, but that isn’t always the case. The general rule of thumb is that the higher profile the case and the more evidence you as the victim have, the higher the damages you may be able to receive.
Regardless of how much evidence you have against the harasser, though, it won’t matter if you don’t step up and hire a knowledgeable, experienced attorney. We at Hershey Law want to help you stop harassment in its tracks. Contact us today for your free consultation.