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Knowing Your Options When You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work

If you experience sexual harassment at work, you do not have to suffer in silence or worry about retaliation if you come forward. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not legal and the laws protect the victims. Local, state, and federal laws protect you from unwelcome sexual advances, as well as unwanted sexual demands and propositions. Also, you have legal rights and protections if you become a victim of a sexually hostile work environment.  

Understanding Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination in the workplace that violates anti-discrimination laws both at the state and federal levels. Some behaviors may constitute sexual harassment that targets both men and women. The offender can be anyone at work including an employer, coworker, non-employee, or supervisor. 

Under the law, sexual harassment includes certain elements. First, it should involve either unwanted sexual advances or some other unwelcome conduct like demands for sexual favors or touching. This should happen due to the sex or gender of a person. Second, the behavior should lead to tangible personnel action such as demotion, termination, hiring, undesirable reassignment, or change in pay and benefits in response to the refusal of an employee to submit to the unwelcome conduct. Also, to be considered sexual harassment under the law, the behavior should be severe or pervasive enough that it changed the working conditions of the victim, making the work environment sexually hostile. 

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

It is important to understand that sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment. Although the majority of sexual harassment cases are based on a series of incidents, sometimes, a single incident can be serious enough to change the terms and conditions of the victim’s employment. This applies to cases that involve sexual assault or inappropriate touching. 

In the case of an assault performed by a supervisor, liability goes to the employer unless they can prove they have an effective policy against harassment and the employee failed to use its complaint procedures. If the harassment is performed by a coworker or non-employee over whom the employer has control, the latter is only liable for sexual harassment. This is true even if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and did not respond appropriately. 

If you believe you are being sexually harassed at work, you should document the harassment. Record all unwanted behavior and retain email, text messages, or other evidence that demonstrate the conduct. Also, you must seek legal advice. You must contact an essex county employment attorney to know if the behavior meets the legal definition of sexual harassment and what you can do about it. 

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