What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Workplace sexual harassment is an event that can occur slowly over time or quickly in an instant. It can happen before the employee realizes the nature of the offense or at a workplace party when an employer has had too much to drink. There are no parameters for how sexual harassment “must” occur to give the employee grounds to file a complaint. It is any unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that relates to or affects the individual’s employment. If you’re unsure whether you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, come to Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP. We can investigate your case and help you understand your legal possibilities.

Defining Sexual Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment. According to the EEOC, something isn’t sexual harassment if it’s an isolated incident, “simple teasing,” or an offhand comment. Harassment is illegal when it’s recurrent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment or adversely affect the individual’s employment. Sexual harassers can hold any position in the workplace and can be men or women. Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be between opposite sexes – same-sex sexual harassment can be just as damaging. Examples of illegal sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Attempted rape
  • Gender discrimination
  • Obscene sexual gestures or expressions
  • Pressure for dates or sex
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual comments
  • Sexual innuendos
  • Unwanted communication of a sexual nature
  • Unwanted sexual teasing or inappropriate jokes
  • Unwanted touching or grabbing
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Whistling or cat calls

Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal, or non-verbal. You don’t have to wait until the perpetrator physically touches you to file a sexual harassment complaint. Looks, gestures, expressions, and body movements that create a hostile work environment may be enough to constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be subtle or forthright. When in doubt, talk to someone within your human resources department. File an official complaint against the perpetrator. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, speak to an attorney.

Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim

After filing a complaint with HR, your next step may be to go to the EEOC. You typically have 180 days from the date of the event to file a charge. If a state or local agency has a law that prohibits discrimination, this deadline extends to 300 days. However, the sooner you file, the sooner you can resolve your sexual harassment case. If your harassment situation is ongoing, the clock starts ticking from the date of the most recent incident. Note that federal employees have different complaint processes than other employees.

The EEOC will investigate your complaint and pay a visit to your workplace. If it deems your complaint is valid, you may have the chance to settle your dispute during mediation. Mediation doesn’t involve a court, judge, or jury, but a neutral third party. If mediation doesn’t resolve the situation, an investigator will take over the case. An investigation that doesn’t find any broken laws will lead to the right to sue. At this point, you can file a lawsuit with the California civil courts. Retain an attorney at any point during your sexual harassment situation for legal counsel and advice.

Contact Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP Today

The Oakland injury law firm of Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP, has more than 60 years of combined experience handling personal injury and employment law cases. We understand federal, state, and local anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws and know how best to handle your individual situation. We can offer personal support and assistance through this difficult time in your life. Contact us today for a free, completely confidential consultation.