What Behaviors Constitute Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment?
Everyone deserves to work in a place that they feel safe and respected. Unfortunately, sexual harassment continues to be an issue in workplaces in Illinois as well as across the country. Sexual harassment is a type of employment discrimination protected against by state and federal law.
The two main types of sexual harassment are quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Just as the name implies, hostile work environment harassment occurs when sexual or gender-related comments and behaviors become so intolerable, it makes an employee unable to do his or her job. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what types of actions constitute hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Examples of Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
There are nearly countless actions which could be considered sexual harassment. Sometimes hostile work environment sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual or romantic advances. For example, if a person’s coworker constantly asks him or her on dates or makes comments like, “When are you going to finally go out with me?” this could potentially be harassment. Unwanted physical contact can also be considered sexual harassment. Employees who do not wish to be touched, hugged, or receive shoulder rubs or other physical contact should have the right to be free from such touching at work. Repeated inappropriate jokes or comments about a person’s body, sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender can also constitute sexual harassment.
Sometimes sexual harassment does not happen directly. An employee who exposes other employees to sexually-explicit material can also be an example of sexual harassment. Sometimes sexual harassment does not involve any spoken words and takes place digitally. Digital sexual harassment can include things like sending sexual or offensive text messages, emails, or workplace memos.
Actions Must Be Severe and Pervasive
According to the law, hostile work environment sexual harassment only takes place when inappropriate and offensive behaviors are “severe” and/or “pervasive” enough to inhibit an individual’s ability to do his or her job. A single incident can constitute hostile work environment sexual harassment if it is extremely abusive or threatening, but hostile work environment harassment more often involves a pattern of inappropriate behavior. One or two offhanded jokes or comments are usually not enough to warrant a sexual harassment claim.
This is not to say that anyone should tolerate this type of behavior at work. If something your coworker does or says makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to ask them to stop and/or report the behavior to a supervisor. If the actions which make you uncomfortable continue after you have reported it to your supervisor or human resources staff, you may have a valid sexual harassment claim.
Contact a Chicago, Illinois Sexual Harassment Lawyer
If you have experienced sexual harassment at work or were fired after reporting sexual harassment, reach out to the knowledgeable Wheaton employment discrimination attorneys at Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick & Mirabella, LLC. Schedule a free, confidential consultation by calling 630-665-7300.