There are a number of misconceptions about sexual harassment in the workplace that may confuse Minnesota residents who believe they are being harassed or discriminated against on the basis of their sex. This may prevent someone from calling attention to unwanted behavior that makes them uncomfortable in their office space. Therefore, understanding what sexual harassment is and what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looks at while investigating allegations can be helpful to all employees in their individual workplaces.
Firstly, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the law, it is illegal to harass someone -- either an employee or an applicant -- on the basis of their sex. While many believe a harasser is only a man or someone of the opposite sex, this is not the case -- a harasser can be of any sex and does not have to be one of the opposite one. Additionally, the harasser does not have to be a supervisor only -- it can be an agent of the employer, a co-worker, a supervisor of another department and even a non-employee. Additionally, the victim does not have to be the person harassed -- it could be anyone who is affected by the harassing behavior.
Unlawful sexual harassment does not have to lead to economic injury or to the victim getting discharged from their job. It does however have to be unwelcome behavior, which is why it is helpful if the victim uses company mechanism to report the behavior.
Lastly, while many believe that harassment has to be of a sexual nature, this is not always the case. Making offensive comments about women in general can constitute harassment, as would lewd comments and any physical or verbal conduct that would implicitly affect the victim's employment or unreasonably interfere with their work performance. Distinguishing an isolated event from a pattern of behaviors that create a hostile working environment can be tricky, which is why an experienced attorney may be able to help aggrieved Minnesota residents exercise their right to having a workplace free of sexual harassment.