Sexual Harassment: Hostile Work Environment

Many people think that in order to be sexually harassed, your boss or co-worker must have physically touched you, or at least tried to do so. However, some sexual harassment claims do not involve direct sexual assaults or advances. This type of sexual harassment can manifest itself in many different kinds of ways. Some examples may inclue harassing words, mistreatment, being wrongfully punished, demoted or giving less preferable treatment for not complying with sexual advances, just to name a few.
 
This sort of sexual harassment occurs when the behavior of your employer or co-workers creates an environment that is so offensive that it affects your ability to work. This is commonly known as a hostile environment claim, which is prohibited by federal and state laws just like other types of sexual harassment.

Different Types of Hostile Work Enivornments 

A hostile environment can take on many forms. For instance, if male employees regularly and openly display pornographic pictures in the work area, you may have a hostile environment claim. Likewise, if your supervisor constantly sends sexually explicit materials to your e-mail account at work, then you may have a hostile environment claim.

First Thing to Do is to Speak Up, Ask for Help

If you have a hostile environment at work, the first step is to ask the persons responsible to stop the behavior. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to take your complaint to your direct supervisor. If, however, your direct supervisor is the one responsible, then you should take your complaint to another supervisor, or your human resources director. You also need to look at your employee handbook or personnel policy to make sure that you are following any procedures that your employer has about making a complaint. While it is tempting to skip these steps altogether and directly contact an attorney about filing a sexual harassment claim, the law requires you to go through these steps before taking your claim to the court system. Otherwise, your employer might not be liable for your claim, since you didn’t give them a chance to stop the behavior.

Crucial Nature of Documenation and Evidence 

It is equally important that you document everything that happens with respect to your hostile environment claim. Write down incidents that occur in detail, including dates, times, and the names of persons who witnessed the incidents. Take pictures or keep copies of offensive messages and/or photographs displayed in your workplace. By doing this, you will have evidence that you may need later in order to prove your claim.

File a Formal Complaint

If complaints to your supervisor aren’t successful, your next step is to file claims with the local, state, and/or federal agency that deals with fair employment practices. Be sure to follow any deadlines or rules for filing these claims; in some cases, it is a required step before you resort to the court system for help. For instance, if you want to file a lawsuit in federal court, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) before doing so. The evaluation of your claim by this agency may also help you decide whether it is worth filing a lawsuit about your claim. 

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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