With the report that Fox News has fired Bill O’Reilly following sexual harassment allegations, and Uber is investigating similar incidents, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is getting a lot of news coverage.
In Bill O’Reilly’s case, Wendy Walsh alleges that one night over dinner O’Reilly offered to help her secure a promotion, and then invited her back to his hotel room. When Walsh refused, O’Reilly became hostile and eventually retaliated. Meanwhile, at Uber, Susan J. Fowler says that she experienced a hostile workplace while working as a software an engineer at the ridesharing company, and she was propositioned, retaliated against for reporting the incident, and threatened with termination.
As formal corporate culture, known for strict HR rules, is increasingly disrupted by startup energy, a business casual, laissez faire attitude, increasingly seems to dominate workplaces. In this environment where anything goes, it can be hard to know what your rights are, the proper channel for reporting sexual harassment, and what to do if you are being sexually harassed. To help, we put together a quick guide:
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual attention, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical harassment. A harasser can be a boss, co-worker, or client.
What does the law say?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”
What type of sexual harassment claims could you file?
Typically, there are two main types sexual harassment claims: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
What would constitute a quid pro quo claim?
Quid Pro Quo is when you are given the chance to benefit from a work opportunity, which could include a promotion, assignment, or not being fired. In these type of situations, a victim might be expected to give into these requests to get hired or promoted.
What would qualify as a hostile work environment?
A hostile work environment is when sexual harassment at the office makes the environment offensive, intimidating, or hostile. Courts will often examine if the conduct was verbal, physical or both; how frequent was it; was it hostile and/or offensive; was the harasser a co-worker or supervisor; whether others participated; and did it target more than one person.
Can you be punished for complaining about sexual harassment?
Nope! According to the law, your employer cannot retaliate against you for complaining about sexual harassment. It also protects you if participate in an investigation.
What can you do if you are experiencing sexual harassment?
Review your company’s policies. Document the incidents including as many specifics as you can, make sure to note the time and place, and if there were any witnesses. Also make sure to keep track of your achievements at work. Then go to your supervisor, or the HR department, and notify them of the harassment. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — you typically have 180 days, or six months, from the date of the harassment to file a claim. If you are not ready to file yet, you can also just call the EEOC and speak with a counselor.
What happens if you file a case with the EEOC?
First, the EEOC will let your employer know you filed a complaint. They may try to settle the complaint, or take you to a mediator. If they are unable to arrive at a settlement, they may file a lawsuit, or they may dismiss the claim.