When is Sexual Harassment at Work Considered a Crime?

Despite significant state and federal efforts to curb workplace sexual harassment, it continues to be an issue for millions of Americans every single year. Think about it: millions of employees, who spend their workdays agitated, embarrassed, and constantly in fear of when their harasser will target them next. Not only does sexual harassment create an inhospitable and unproductive work environment, it can even be illegal once it escalates. As a victim, you have rights! No one should have to work in an environment where they are constantly in fear of sexual harassment. If you’ve been subjected to sexual behavior or speech by a coworker or manager, let us help. Call V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561 to fight for justice.

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment 

Targets of sexual harassment often don’t recognize that they’ve been victimized until they speak out about their experience. Sexual harassment is so often downplayed, ignored, and even joked about that victims may genuinely believe that they are overreacting. However, this problem is so significant that the EEOC has created multiple resources on it. Their definition of sexual harassment includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Any other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature 

If this definition sounds vague and open-ended, it is meant to be. Those who engage in sexual harassment go to great lengths to evade the conventional definition of sexual harassment to avoid being held accountable. Furthermore, constant changes in technology give sexual harassers new ways to reach their victims all the time. The definition must be broad enough to include all sexual behavior, speech, and communication.

It is important that if you are subjected to sexual harassment, you make it clear that the conduct or speech is not welcome and, if it persists, to document the conduct in writing to your employer.  This both protects an employee from retaliation and provides compelling documentation in the event that your employer decides to break the law.

When does sexual harassment become illegal? Per the EEOC, sexual harassment is illegal when it is frequent or severe enough that it either creates a hostile work environment or leads to an adverse employment decision against the victim.

Claims Without Any Evidence

Victims often wait to come forward because they don’t believe their claim is supported by any evidence. This is often the case when their harasser has had multiple victims in the past—they often become smarter as they go, learning how to evade HR and avoid leaving evidence of their harassment. However, your experience and testimony is evidence. Even if you don’t think that’s enough, it’s still worth talking to a lawyer. There’s often far more evidence out there than you think. Surveillance cameras, workplace e-mail monitoring, reports from other affected individuals, and the perpetrator’s own words can all bolster your case.

Verbal Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

One question we often face is, “Is it sexual harassment if it’s only verbal?” The adage about sticks and stones causing more harm than words has done its share of damage to victims, making them feel that their experience isn’t “real” harassment if it never turned physical. Make no mistake of it: words alone can be sexual harassment, and they can cause extraordinary harm to victims. Unwelcome comments, jokes, sexual overtures, and lewd statements can all be considered sexual harassment. Employers are expected to provide a work environment that is free of all sexual harassment. You should document every single verbal harassment incident with the date, time, people involved, and potential witnesses.

When Sexual Harassment Becomes Discriminatory

sexual harassment workplace statistics

Sexual harassment is sex-based discrimination, per the EEOC. It violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since sexual harassment is based in part on the other party’s sex, it is considered gender-based discrimination.

Who is At Fault When Sexual Harassment Occurs?

If sexual harassment is illegal, then who can be held accountable for it when it happens in the workplace? There are multiple potentially liable parties. Let’s start at the top: your employer is legally obligated to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace. If they are aware of the harassment and do not intervene to stop it, they are just as liable as the harasser. That is why it is important to document the harassment.

Unfortunately, we often see this happen when the harasser is of a higher level than the victim. They may threaten the victim into silence, claiming to have power over their job or even their entire career if they have substantial pull in the industry. A surprising amount of companies support this behavior; they prioritize the higher-ranking individual and so expect the victim to just deal with harassment. This same type of dynamic may occur if the harasser is a valuable client or customer who spends a lot with the company. Companies can be held accountable for their complicity.

The perpetrator of the harassment can also be held liable. No matter how much they claim not to know what is and isn’t appropriate, they absolutely know—that is why they try to hide it or intimidate victims into remaining silent. Whether the harasser is a company owner, manager, peer, or client, they can be held accountable.

How Sexual Harassment Can Affect You

Sexual harassment has a detrimental effect on victims’ mental well-being. You may be left with depression, anxiety, and a sense of guilt; many overanalyze their actions to see if they encouraged or contributed to the harassment, even though the victim is never to blame.

Professionally, sexual harassment can hinder your career. If a victim is successfully held down by their employer or manager, their reputation may suffer or they may struggle to find work within their industry. Even if they remain employed at the same place, they often report diminished job satisfaction and decreased productivity.

Choose V. James DeSimone Law

With over 30 years of experience protecting employees’ rights, we have the knowledge and skills needed to handle your sexual harassment issues. Our team is ready to sit down and talk to you about your case and your legal options. Our Attorneys include a former prosecutor and a former police officer (both females) meaning we are well-versed in prosecuting lawbreakers and the intersection of criminal and civil law.  We understand how painful and stressful these situations can be, and we’re here for you. Contact us online or call us at 310-693-5561 to schedule a consultation.

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