When I talk with friends and family about the work accomplished by Schaefer Halleen, so many people say to me, “But sexual harassment in the workplace can’t still be a thing, right? Don’t people know better by now?” Unfortunately, despite the surge in awareness prompted by the MeToo Movement, as well as various portrayals in film and television, sexual harassment in the workplace is still very much “a thing.” In fact, many of our clients come to us with concerns about sexual harassment they are experiencing in their workplaces.
When determining whether you believe you are experiencing sexual harassment, you may be tempted to deny your experiences, to think, “That could never happen to me.” Unfortunately, sexual harassment continues to be a prominent issue in the workplace, and the below scenarios describe some examples of how sexual harassment continues to occur in the workplace.
Romantic Pursuits Can Quickly Become Harassment
In a situation where Employee A asks Employee B on a date, B rejects A, and they both move on with their lives, such events may not rise to the levels of harassment. If, however, after being rejected, A: continues to ask B on dates; suddenly starts giving B the cold shoulder; gives B less favorable work tasks; gossips about B; or otherwise impact’s B’s ability to do B’s job, such treatment may rise to harassment. Even if A’s negative behavior towards B is not inherently sexual in nature, B may have claims of sexual harassment if A’s treatment of B stems from B’s refusal to go on a date with A.
Being Exposed to Sexual Imagery May Be Sexually Harassing
While most companies have policies informing employees that they may not view sexually explicit or pornographic materials in the workplace, such behaviors continue to occur. An employee can be subjected to their colleagues’ sexually explicit materials in a variety of ways. For example, if Employee C keeps a calendar with scantily-clad women in their office, employees who are forced to view that calendar whenever they go into C’s office may be subjected to sexual harassment. Or, if E walks into a room of colleagues who are on a dating app and has to listen to their colleagues discussing individuals on the app in a sexual manner, this treatment may rise to the level of sexual harassment.
Repeatedly exposing colleagues to sexual content in the workplace is certainly not appropriate and may be considered sexual harassment in certain situations.
Experiencing Unwanted Physical Contact May Be Sexual Harassment
Unwanted physical contact is not appropriate in any context, whether it is sexual in nature. To rise to the level of sexual harassment, the contact must typically involve body parts such as genitals, buttocks, or breasts. Unwanted kissing or hugging is also viewed as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may also occur, however, in cases of unwanted massages or prolonged instances of touching.
Again, sexual harassment can arise out of unwanted touching in a variety of ways, and perpetrators of this harassment may attempt to minimize the impact by saying it was accidental, not sexual, or too quick to mean anything. When these instances occur, it is key to document what happened and report them immediately.
Sexual Harassment Continues to Evolve
Unfortunately, sexual harassment continues to evolve in the workplace, and this list of possible situations sexual harassment is non-exhaustive. In other words, there are so many ways that sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, no matter the industry.
If you believe you have been sexually harassed, please contact the attorneys at Schaefer Halleen who are eager to help you with this sensitive matter.