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What is sexual harassment?

More and more employees are coming forward each day about their difficult experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment allegations by employees at CBS and Fox News are currently in the headlines and numerous television and movie stars have opened up about their own experiences.

Sexual harassment can occur at the highest levels of the entertainment world, political world, and corporate world, but it is also prevalent in factories, offices, and all the workplaces of America. Despite this, many people don't come forward out of feelings of guilt or shame, or perhaps more often simply because they don't know if their experience constitutes sexual harassment and, if it does, how to start the process to seek justice for their trauma.

What is sexual harassment?

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") states that sexual harassment can come in the form of "[u]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when it 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."

Generally, sexual harassment claims fall into one of three categories: 1) Quid Pro Quo; 2) Hostile Work Environment; or 3) Retaliation.

Quid Pro Quo claims deal with situations where an employee, especially a manager, explicitly states or implicitly makes clear that continued employment or an employment perk, like a promotion or raise, is contingent on a sexual relationship or sexual act.

Hostile Work Environment claims deal with situations where sexual harassment from an individual, or more than one individual, at work creates an environment that interferes with your work performance. This harassment can be physical or verbal. The harassment can be done in person, over the phone, or even through texting.

Retaliation occurs when an employee raises a complaint of sexual harassment and is fired, demoted, or otherwise targeted for making their complaint.

Who can be sexually harassed?

Anyone. The EEOC is clear - when it comes to sexual harassment "[t]he victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex."

Harassment can be perpetrated by a supervisor, a coworker, or even a non-employee.

To be affected by sexual harassment, you need not be the individual actually targeted. Imagine a situation where an environment is toxic because you have to watch a coworker being sexually harassed every day and nothing is done when you complain. In this situation, even though you are not the individual being harassed, you may still have a valid Hostile Work Environment claim.

Sexual harassment can occur even when there was a consensual sexual relationship in the past. Just because sexual banter or actions may have been consensual at one point doesn't mean the rules don't change when someone ends a relationship with a coworker or boss. If you have broken off a relationship with a coworker or supervisor and they continue to ask for a sexual relationship or behave in a flirtatious manner, this behavior can constitute sexual harassment.

What should you do if you've been sexually harassed?

First and foremost, you should not be ashamed of anything! Sexual harassment impacts countless men and women in the United States. You should never feel guilty about someone unlawfully imposing themselves on you, whether this is done physically or verbally.

You may want to contact the EEOC to file a formal charge against the company where the harassment occurred. In certain situations, it may also make sense to contact your local police department.

However, before doing anything, please consider giving our office a call to discuss your encounter with sexual harassment at work. Our attorneys have represented many women and men that have been sexually harassed at work and have been successful in achieving recoveries that have compensated those impacted by sexual harassment for many, many years. Please let us help you during this difficult time in your life.

You can reach attorneys at Miller Cohen, P.L.C at (313) 964-4454. All calls are treated as confidential.

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