Your Options When Faced with Harassment
Most sexual harassment claims are made under Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states:
…it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment makes you think that if you don’t submit to sexual advances or remarks, you might lose your job, or fail to get a promotion, or your career might suffer in some other way.
The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined sexual harassment as:
- unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature… when… submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions… or such conduct has the purpose or effect of… creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
Two kinds of sexual harassment in Michigan
Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act identifies two broad categories of sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Being an employee
- You’re paid a salary or an hourly wage, or a combination of base salary and commission
- Your employer withholds taxes for you
- You can apply for unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation
- You can bring a claim for wrongful termination
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo means “this for that”. In other words, “You give me a sexual favor and I’ll let you have your job” (or a promotion etc.). Clearly this makes an unpleasant situation for the victim. A discrimination attorney can be of great help in guiding you through this and helping to end it.
Hostile work environment
This form of harassment is a little more nebulous, harder to pin down. It consists of a co-worker or superior making remarks or doing things that cause you to feel uncomfortable about your sex. There need be no specific demands made.
To be proved, it has to be persistent and severe, more than just the occasional sexual remark or joke – what the court will call “stray remarks”. Your employer is legally responsible if this sort of hostile work environment can be proved to exist around you.
Who engages in sexual harassment?
Most often it’s men harassing young women. But at times it’s also:
- Women harassing men
- Men harassing other men
- Women harassing other women
The victims are not always young and aren’t always what would popularly be considered “attractive”. Often, however, they are workers who desperately need their jobs, as this makes them more likely to submit to harassment.
Why is it difficult to report?
At times sexual harassment goes unreported because the victim feels embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful. What if you report it and your boss says you asked for it? What if you become known as a “troublemaker”? What if you get demoted for making a fuss?
The alternative to reporting it, other than silently submitting to it, is to get another job or a transfer. But if that’s done, the harasser is then able to choose another victim and continue without any consequences happening.
What to do if you’re being harassed
The first thing to do is make it very clear to the person harassing you that it’s not welcome.
- State your objection the first time it happens. Don’t just be polite or joke it off in a friendly way.
- If it happens a second or third time, put your objection in writing to your supervisor and ask for a written reply.
- Keep notes on exactly when it occurs, where, and what you did and said.
- Mention it to other co-workers and ask if they’ve had a similar problem.
- If you have to, use a grievance procedure and ramp up your objection to your supervisor’s supervisor.
- If you belong to a union, know that under the National Labor Relations Act, that union must represent you on sexual harassment issues.
Jay Trucks & Associates, in Flint Michigan, are sexual discrimination attorneys who have successfully represented thousands of people and collected millions of dollars on their behalf. We are strong advocates for sexual discrimination victims and tough negotiators with employers.
Contact us today for a free initial consultation.