In 2018, over 7,500 sexual harassment claims were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a 14% increase from the previous year. 2017 was also the year that the #MeToo movement was popularized worldwide, so the rise in claims is likely due more to an increase in visibility on the issue rather than an actual jump in incidences of sexual harassment. However, it can still be very difficult for victims to come forward, so many choose not to do so. While this is understandable, it sadly allows for workplace harassment to persist and perpetrators to go unpunished.
In this blog post, our Morgantown employment law attorneys share examples of workplace harassment and how to safely report it should you choose to come forward.
What Counts as Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can come in many forms. Generally, any action or comment of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee's ability to do their job in an environment they feel comfortable in is considered sexual harassment.
Examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- Unwanted uncomfortable touching;
- Asking questions about a coworker’s sex life or sexual orientation;
- Displaying inappropriate sexual images in the workplace;
- Leering in a suggestive or offensive manner;
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures;
- Making lewd jokes;
- Making sexual comments about someone’s appearance;
- Offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Quid Pro Quo (“This for that”);
- Requests for sexual favors;
- Sending suggestive notes, text messages, emails, and other correspondence;
- Sharing sexual anecdotes;
- Sharing sexually explicit photos, videos, and other media;
- Whistling and catcalling;
Should I Report?
Coming forward with a sexual harassment claim is far from easy. Historically, victims of sexual harassment have been silenced, ignored, ridiculed, attacked, ostracized, and blamed for trying to report it, whether work-related or not. This understandably makes victims hesitant to come forward, as they may fear for their livelihoods and wellbeing if they are retaliated against for doing so. Remember, sexual harassment makes victims feel powerless by design.
Reporting sexual harassment should be the choice of the victim. If you do not feel comfortable informing your superior of the experience, no one is forcing you to. However, if you do choose to report, you should understand your rights and options. We know your rights!
How to Report Workplace Sexual Harassment
Though it may not always seem this way in practice, the law does protect victims of sexual harassment. The West Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment that “unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”
Your workplace should have a procedure in place for handling sexual harassment claims, so follow what your boss or Human Resources (HR) department requests of you next. (If there is no sexual harassment policy, contact a lawyer right away.)
Additionally, you can report harassment to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission and/or the State of West Virginia Governor's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.
Finally, you can contact a lawyer who practices employment law, like Shaffer Madia Law. An attorney will inform you of your rights and advise you on what steps to take next. Should legal action become necessary, your lawyer will represent you in any hearings or trials that result. At Shaffer Madia Law, it does not cost you anything to speak to one of our employment lawyers about your situation.
Since the #MeToo movement, incidences of sexual harassment against people of all genders have started to become far less acceptable. While coming forward still takes a great amount of courage and can be met with many hardships, there has never been a time when victims have been more seen and believed than they are now. If you would like to report an incident, we are here to stand by your side and protect your rights throughout the process.
Sexual harassment is never excusable. At Shaffer Madia Law, our Morgantown employment law attorneys can handle sexual harassment claims on your behalf so you don’t have to suffer alone. Call (304) 244-4433 or contact us online to learn more. We offer free consultations to all new clients.