sexual harassment in the office

How to Fight Back Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment involving political leaders and sports and entertainment figures gets plenty of media attention, but harassment occurs in everyday workplaces too, including throughout Chicago. If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual harassment at work, it is wise to consult with an experienced employment litigation attorney.  This blog post is a brief discussion about how to identify sexual harassment and what you can do about it. 

What is sexual harassment? 

The first thing to know is that sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex-based discrimination under federal and state law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA). Moreover, sexual harassment can occur in a number of ways.

A supervisor or manager making unwanted sexual advances or demands in exchange for a benefit of employment (e.g. job offer, raise, promotion) constitutes quid pro quo (this for that) harassment. 

Another form of harassment, referred to as a hostile work environment, occurs when an employee is subjected to offensive conduct, comment, or visual displays that are severe or pervasive enough to interfere with his or her job duties. Finally, third-party harassment, which involves harassment by non-employees (e.g. clients, customers, vendors) is also unlawful. 

How to Pursue a Sexual Harassment Claim

If you are pursuing a federal claim, it is important to note that Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The IHRA provides more protection to employees because it applies to employers with at least one employee. Whether pursuing a claim under federal or state law, it is necessary to file a complaint (a Charge) with either the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) before filing a lawsuit.

Pursuing a sexual harassment claim can be complicated, and taking legal action against an employer can be intimidating. An experienced sexual harassment attorney will properly investigate and gather facts that help prove your claim, but you must take steps to stop the offensive conduct. First, you must personally inform the other person that his or her actions are offensive. If the conduct persists,  you must complain to a supervisor or human resources personnel. 

If your employer fails to stop the harassment, you may be able to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit. Ultimately, to have a valid claim you must be able to show that you believed the conduct was hostile, offensive, or abusive. There must also be evidence that a reasonable person in the same situation would believe the conduct was hostile, offensive, or abusive.

What is employment retaliation?

Employees who exercise a legal right, including complaining about sexual harassment, are also protected from retaliation for complaining about the harassment. An employer cannot take any adverse employment action (e.g. firing, demoting) against an employee who reports workplace harassment. 

The Takeaway

All employees in Chicago have a right to a work environment free from sexual harassment. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in your workplace, an experienced employment litigation attorney can help you explore your legal options.