Generally, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. It violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
conduct is “based on the victim’s protected status”
subjectively abusive to person affected
“severe and pervasive” enough to create a work environment that a “reasonable person” would find hostile
What factors are used to determine of harassment is “severe and pervasive” enough?
frequency of unwelcome conduct
severity of conduct
whether conduct was physically threatening/humiliating or “mere offensive utterance”
where conduct “unreasonably” interfered with work performance
effect on employee’s psychological well-being
whether harasser was a superior at the organization
From the Department of Labor:
Each factor is considered, but none are required or dispositive. Hostile work environment cases are often difficult to recognize, because the particular facts of each situation determine whether offensive conduct has crossed the line from “ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language . . . and occasional teasing,” to unlawful harassment.
However, the intent of the Department of Labor's Harassing Conduct Policy is to provide a process for addressing incidents of unwelcome conduct long before they become severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment under the law.
Does the gender of the victim or harasser matter?
No. Both the victim and harasser can be either a woman or a man — or both can be the same sex.
You may also want to continue keeping a record of the discriminatory activity and seek support from friends and family.
What if speaking out is too difficult?
“Some victims will never report abuse, and they have that right,” psychologist Nekeshia Hammond told NBC News. “It’s a case by case thing, and sometimes there’s a reason for staying silent — if you feel your safety is threatened, or if you’re literally on the verge of having an emotional breakdown and will be unable to function. But you need to reach out to someone.”
Hammond recommends calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which includes free services and confidential support.
Can staying silent work against me, legally?
According to the Department of Labor, “the department cannot correct harassing conduct if a supervisor, manager or other Department official does not become aware of it.”
In fact, when an employee “unreasonably fails to report harassing conduct,” the department can use this as a defense against a suit for harassment.
Additionally, if you file a complaint with the EEOC, it’s recommended you do so within 180 days of the discriminatory activity.