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Understanding workplace sexual harassment

Unfortunately, workplace sexual harassment remains a continuing problem in Missouri, just as it does in all other states. While it comes in a wide range of forms and behaviors, workplace sexual harassment always involves unwanted work-related sexual conduct and/or advances perpetrated by one person against another.

As FindLaw explains, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes sexual harassment illegal in the workplace. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission adds that sexual harassment’s characteristics include the following:

  • The victim and perpetrator may be of either sex, but not necessarily of opposite sexes.
  • The perpetrator can be any number of people such as the victim’s co-worker, supervisor, a supervisor in a different department, or any agent of the employer, including a nonemployee.
  • The perpetrator’s conduct and/or advances must be unwelcome to the victim.
  • The perpetrator’s conduct must explicitly or implicitly negatively affect the victim’s work, unreasonably interfere with his or her work performance, or create an offensive, intimidating or hostile work environment.
  • The victim need not be the object of the harassment, but any employee negatively impacted by the perpetrator’s conduct.

Victim’s responsibilities

Many people may not realize that a sexual harassment victim has responsibilities of his or her own. The primary responsibility consists of attempting to stop the harassment. The victim must communicate to the perpetrator one way or another that (s)he finds the conduct unwelcome and offensive. If the conduct continues, the victim then has the responsibility of taking his or her complaint up the company’s chain of command. (S)he must adhere to any written policies and procedures the employer has in place.

While victims do not have an actual responsibility to fully document the harassment, doing so constitutes best practice. The more specific documentation the victim accumulates with regard to what happened, when it happened, who witnessed it, how it impacted his or her work and/or productivity, and how it made him or her feel, the stronger the case (s)he builds.

The victim has one final responsibility. (S)he must file a complaint with the EEOC before filing a civil lawsuit against his or her employer. The EEOC must have the opportunity to investigate and settle the case before it goes to litigation.

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