Despite the many advances the United States has taken over the last few decades regarding the maintaining of rights and protections for Americans in the workplace, unfortunately, sexual harassment still is a serious problem for many. To make matters worse, the forms of sexual harassment that may occur while at work various greatly. So what exactly is considered sexual assault, and how can you as a worker, protect yourself from sexual assault while at work?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, which sets the definitions, enforces the act and helps victims, specifically breaks down sexual harassment as any of the following: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Despite this seemingly clear definition, the courts often do not always agree on what specifically can be defined as sexual harassment. For example, If a co-worker asks another co-worker out for drinks or dinner, is that an unwelcome advance and thus sexual harassment? What if an employee is exposed to one display of sexually offensive material?
When making a decision, the courts will consider several factors, including but not limited to the frequency of the sexual-in-nature actions, the severity, the context in which the incident or incidents occurred, as well as the size and nature of the company. If you believe you may have been a victim of sexual harassment, it is important to not delay in reporting the incident, to not only protect yourself, but your co-workers and future co-workers who may become victims as well.