Although only about 15,000 sexual harassment cases in the United States are brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) every year, studies indicate that an astonishing 40 to 70 percent of women and an alarming 10 to 20 percent of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace. In fact, a recent study revealed that an alarming 62 percent of those who claimed to have experienced sexually harassed never reported it or took any action at all. An estimated 97 percent of companies in the United States have a sexual harassment policy and while most outline the company’s definition of sexual harassment and clearly define the course of action that will be taken in the event of an occurrence, many people are still unclear about how to identify such.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?
While some cases of sexual harassment are obvious, making the interpretation of the offender’s motives pretty cut and dry, others are not so clear. According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is defined as:
- Any unwanted sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature (including jokes, gestures, comments about a person’s sex or genitalia, and even discussions with other employees)
- When any sexual misconduct affects an individual’s employment, interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
What to Do About Sexual Harassment
In many situations, victims who feel they have been sexually harassed can review their company’s sexual harassment policy, and report the harassment to their human resources department, supervisor, or other person specified in the policy, and the company will investigate the claim and take appropriate action. In some cases, however, it isn’t that easy. If a company fails to act on the situation, or takes adverse action against the victim, the company can sometimes be held liable. Additionally, the victim can file charges against the offending employee claiming assault and/ or battery.
If the case enters the court system, the courts will investigate whether inappropriate sexual conduct occurred, and if so, whether it occurred repeatedly. They will then consider whether the misconduct affected the employee’s work life, whether the employee was passed up for a promotion, or whether the victim was fired or other adverse actions were taken because the harassment was reported or unwelcome.