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Commonly asked questions about sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment can come in many forms and isn't just between an employee and a boss. Harassment can occur between any two individuals who work in the same office. If one employee is threatening or harassing another, he or she may be breaking the law, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Harassment that is sexual in nature includes requests for sexual favors, physical or verbal harassment that is sexual in nature or unwelcome sexual advances. Many incidents go unreported because individuals fear for their jobs or aren't sure if their situation constitutes sexual harassment.

Can I be punished for reporting sexual harassment?

Laws are in place to protect employees who have filed a complaint against their boss for sexual harassment. If you choose to participate in a proceeding, investigation or hearing for a co-worker who has been sexually harassed, you are protected under that same law. This makes it safer for employees to come forward when they feel they are being unfairly treated or threatened.

What should I do if I fear I am in a harassing situation?

Every case is different, and each person should determine what is best for his or her situation, but there are some basic steps you can follow when you feel you are being sexually harassed.

  • Check the handbook or policies from your place of work specifically for the sexual harassment policy.
  • Put complaints in writing and take specific notes on the incidents, including what was done or said, what time and place it happened and who was there when it happened.
  • You may feel safe speaking directly to the harasser, but make sure you are specific about the offensive behavior, tell them that the behavior is upsetting you and specifically ask them to stop the behavior.
  • If you are uncomfortable with approaching your harasser, go right to your human resources department or your supervisor for help.
  • Consider filing a complaint with the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

How do I prevent sexual harassment?

The best way for employers to avoid sexual harassment is to take steps to educate employees and supervisors about what constitutes harassment in the workplace. Policies for handling harassment should be clearly communicated from the beginning of employment, and any time a complaint is issued, it should be handled swiftly and appropriately.

Every individual has the right to feel safe in the workplace. If you feel you are being sexually harassed and the situation isn't being handled appropriately, it may be beneficial to consult with a lawyer to discuss any questions you have.

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