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What does sexual harassment in the workplace look like?

No matter the age or sex of an employee, the issue of sexual harassment at work is well known. While employees in Minnesota and elsewhere are aware of the seriousness of sex discrimination, many are not fully prepared to deal with such a situation. Moreover, some may not be able to distinguish instances of sexual harassment, causing them to not take appropriate action against mistreatment at work.

What does sexual harassment in the workplace look like? While sexual harassment is not specifically addressed and defined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees are protected from sex discrimination and any form of harassment that creates a hostile work environment even if it does not violate a federal law. So simply put, an employer or co-worker could violate the rules in a workplace even if a federal law is not violated.

Today, sexual harassment can take many forms, but is often described as overt actions that are obscene, such as making lewd comments, causing unwanted attention and unwanted touching. Sexual harassment could also be subtle, such as staring or making repeat requests for a date.

What should employees do if they suspect that he or she is a victim of sexual harassment? Depending on the situation, it might be a good idea to address the harasser by talking to them directly. While this could be done face to face, it is important to start documenting instances of sexual harassment as soon as possible. Because of this, it is best to put concerns in writing and address the harasser in the same manner.

Victims of sexual harassment should also understand that they do not need to report events of sexual harassment directly to their boss. Informing the HR department is often the next step to take, and could result in a formal complaint of action being filed if the sexual harassment has not ended after HR has stepped in.

The outcomes of a sexual harassment claim may not be what a victim expects, such as remaining colleagues with the harasser, but victims should understand their rights and options if sexual harassment persists after actions have been taken. This could result in a formal cause of action, helping to punish the wrongdoer and possibly providing the victim with compensation for their losses and damages.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "6 Things to Know About Workplace Sexual Harassment," Jada A. Graves, Feb. 12, 2015

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