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Message #743 Sexual harassment: Workplace Q&A

mp3 #743 Sexual Harassment at Work (mp3 file)

Question: Is it sexual harassment if I get unwanted sexual attention from a co-worker?

Explanation: Yes. A co-worker (or even a subordinate) can affect the quality and/or the conditions of your work environment. If your workplace conditions have been affected in a negative manner by a co-worker in retaliation to your rejection of unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances or demands, it is sexual harassment. This behavior commonly takes the form of derogatory comments, rumors, jokes and rudeness. You should document these occurrences, confront the harasser, and notify your supervisor immediately. For example, in a restaurant, a busboy can affect a waitress' job in a negative way. A busboy can, in retaliation to her rejection of his unwanted sexual attention or demands, not perform his job duties (generally not assisting the waitress, such as not pouring water, not giving coffee refills, not cleaning or setting tables, etc). This behavior can result in a waitress losing tips and even her job.

Question: Is there such a thing as homosexual sexual harassment? What should I do if I’m receiving unwanted sexual attention or demands from someone of the same sex?

Explanation: Sexual harassment is any unwanted and unsolicited sexual attention or demands. A person's sexual preference is not the issue. If you are receiving unwanted and unsolicited sexual attention or demands from someone in your workplace, it is sexual harassment. You should document, inform the harasser to stop, notify management of the problem, and pursue any and all of the legal and extra-legal options available, to remedy the problem of sexual harassment.

Remember: your sexual preference and the harasser's sexual preference is not the issue. The issue is the fact that the sexual demands are unwanted and unsolicited. They are misuse of power. They are being used as a control mechanism, not primarily to satisfy any personal sexual desire.

Question: what can I do if the person harassing me owns the company? (Or the harasser is the head of my workplace?)

Explanation: Many times there is a partner or partners, a board of directors, or the company may be part of a corporation, or it may be a franchise. The fact is most people, even if they own their own business, are answerable to someone. If there are any other people involved with the ownership or running of the company, notify them in writing of the problem. (Your employer may have government contracts or may rely on other organizations and agencies.) If your workplace is large enough, you may want to reorganize and become a member of the union. (If this is possible, contact the AFL-CIO or applicable union in your area for specific information.) You may also pursue the legal remedies available to you through the equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC) or the California State Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If you are still unsure of your situation, get legal advice from an attorney.

Question: how long should I wait before I do something? (How much abuse do I have to take?)

Explanation: You should not have to take any abuse. No incident of sexual harassment should go by seemingly unnoticed. However, every situation is different. The amount of time you wait before you actively do anything depends entirely on you. Whether you actively pursue a remedy immediately or not, you should document all incidents as they occur. Remember, much of your credibility is dependent on what you do to stop this unwanted attention. Keep in mind that there are also time limitations for filing charges for all the legal options.

Question: What are my legal options if I was fired or was forced to quit, as a result of my ending a romantic relationship with my boss?

Explanation: If you went out with your boss because of genuine attraction and the dating was mutual (that is, you did not feel your job was in jeopardy if you did not go out with him or her) that is not sexual harassment. Although, it is very common that once the personal relationship ends, you will experience retaliation (such as attacks on your work performance), and the conditions of your employment are affected in an extremely negative manner. You should document all the incidents leading up to and surrounding your leaving your job and seek the advice of an attorney.

Question: What about the person who "asks for it"?

Explanation: no person asks to be sexually harassed. We are talking about unwanted and unsolicited sexual attention or demands. If an individual person wants and welcomes sexual attention in the workplace, he or she is not being sexually harassed when he or she receives it. It is sometimes assumed that all persons want and like sexual attention in the workplace, and that leads to sexual harassment.

No person asks to be sexually harassed. The issue is not the dress or mannerisms of persons inviting sexual advances by others. The issue is that when a person says "no" and "stop", that is what they mean. Their wishes should be respected.

If you have suffered sexual harassment at work you may wish to contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to file a complaint if extra-legal methods have been unsuccessful. Such a complaint should be filed as soon as possible after the act of sexual harassment, so as to avoid statute of limitations problems.

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