Working adults spend most of their waking hours in the workplace, and many things could happen within a 40-hour week.Tragically, this sometimes includes experiencing any of the several forms of sexual harassment.
Harassment, when done in the workplace setting, is considered employment discrimination. It’s unwelcome and distressing conduct based on protected conditions, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), a government agency that protects and advances workplace rights. Harassment violates the law as employees often feel the need to endure it to keep their position or advance a career. And when the act is so severe and widespread, a person could consider it abusive, hostile, and intimidating.
The #metoo movement became a widespread global campaign to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, alongside callsto stop them.If you’ve been a victim of this heinous act, building your case is critical before taking your allegations to court. To do this effectively, it would be best for you to first learn about the fundamentals of a sexual harassment case:
Sexual Harassment In the Workplace
Most organizations now recognize the scope of the issue and have instituted measures to handle minor cases within their ranks. Check your employee handbook for specific procedures and policies on how these types of incidents are handled internally. As a cornerstone document, it’s the basis for professional conduct and behavior in the office setting.
Between 1993 and 1999, up to 36,500 cases of rape and sexual assault were reported in different workplaces in the United States, with women comprising 80% of the victims. In one study quoted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), up to 38% of working women were reportedly victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Characteristics Of Sexual Harassment
The key elements of sexual harassment hinge on both the specific sexual harassment claim and the laws enforced in the state where the case is filed.
Apart from the two fundamental factors mentioned, the employee-victim should be able to establish the following:
- They received perks or lost work benefits in exchange for,or because of rejecting, a specific sexual favor.
- The act must have been committed for extended periods, interfering with the employee-victim’s work conditions and performance.
Moreover, the employee must also be able to provide evidence that the incident happened, either a work superior or colleague was the perpetrator, and that they suffered damages of any nature due to the incident and malicious act.
If, even after you’ve secured supporting evidence for your claim, your employer fails to take action, consult an attorney for sound legal advice on what to do if your employer ignores your sexually harassment claims.
How To Prove Sexual Harassment In The Workplace
There are two major classifications of office harassment: quid pro quo (in exchange for something) and ‘hostile environment.’ Often, the former involves superiors asking for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or specific job perks, while the latter comprises acts done by a colleague that creates a hostile work environment.
- Collect Physical Evidence
Gather as much proof as you can such as documents, emails, photos, voice recordings, video footage, and any physical item that can be used before the court.In more concrete terms, these can be any or all of the following:
- Documents of written complaints, reports, personnel files, and communication exchanges between the employee and the company’s human resources representative.
- Witness testimonies
- The employee handbook, with written policies on what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace and the internal mechanisms in place for handling such incidents.
- Proof that the employee-victimreceived work benefits.
- Identify Witnesses
Make sure that the witness(es) you’re going to identify have first-hand knowledge about the incident. They might either be a victim themselves or must have seen and heard the act done by a supervisor or a colleague to a co-worker. A potential witness may also present conversations with the perpetrator discussing the incident.
- Discuss With Your Lawyer About The Severity Of The Act
Every person has different tolerance levels for sexual innuendos and physical contact. Some people may find sexually-oriented jokes and discussions offensive, while others find it tolerable.
What sets a sexual harassment case from unintentionally offensive acts is its severity and pervasiveness. Proving that the work environment has become hostile and intimidating because of the unwelcome act is key to every allegation.
Courts typically check the following elements in determining the severity of the offense:
- The severity of the conduct, partly based on its impact on the victim and other related circumstances;
- How often theact is committed;
- An assessment of whether the act was physically threatening, primarily involved offensive statements, or both;
- The impact of the act on the employee-victim's work performance;
- Its specific impact on the employee’s psychological well-being;
- The alleged perpetrator’s relationship with the accuser, mainly in the company hierarchy.
It’s not easy to find a job in these challenging times, and most dread the thought of losing one. However, enduring abusive working conditions is never okay. No price is ever enough to compensate for your mental health, well-being, and safety.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in the office, raise the issue with the human resources, gather as much evidence as you can, and consult a lawyer if you’ve decided to file a case.