Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work? 5 Red Flags

am i being sexually harassed at work

Maybe it’s a coworker’s constant stream of off-color jokes or lingering glances that make you uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the supervisor who seems a little too interested in your personal life, prying with invasive questions.

These uneasy feelings could be red flags – warning signs that you’re facing a form of discrimination known as workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is disturbingly common, often going unreported due to fear, confusion, or uncertainty about what constitutes crossing the line. In fact, studies show that 90% of people who say they have experienced harassment never file a formal complaint.

At BT Law Group, we believe every employee deserves to feel safe, respected, and empowered in the workplace. That’s why we’re shedding light on some of the signs of sexual harassment – so you can identify problematic behaviors, understand your rights, and take action to protect yourself.

Understanding Sexual Harassment: Definition and Forms

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal/physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a condition of employment
  2. Submission or rejection is used as the basis for employment decisions
  3. Such conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

Essentially, sexual harassment occurs when unwanted, sexually charged behaviors interfere with your ability to work comfortably and productively.

There are two main categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment harassment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo translates to “this for that.” It refers to a situation in which employment terms such as raises, promotions, or even keeping your job are contingent on complying with sexual demands. For example, a boss implying you’ll get a coveted promotion if you go out on a date with them is classic quid pro quo.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

Hostile work environment harassment refers to severe or pervasive conduct that poisons the workplace atmosphere and makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable due to inappropriate, unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature.

Common examples include:

  • Offensive jokes/comments about appearance,
  • Repeated unwelcome requests for dates or sexual favors,
  • Inappropriate touching, and
  • The displaying or sharing of explicit sexual materials

This type of harassment doesn’t require an economic incentive like with quid pro quo claims. The inappropriate conduct itself creates an intolerable work environment rife with disrespect and degradation.

5 Red Flags of Potential Sexual Harassment

#1 Inappropriate Comments or Jokes

Inappropriate comments about an individual’s body, sexual abilities, or private sexual matters can turn a professional environment into an uncomfortable and hostile space.

Even if these “jokes” aren’t directly aimed at you, they can contribute to an environment where sexual banter is normalized and made to seem acceptable. Sometimes, these inappropriate comments escalate from passing remarks into a steady stream of harassment.

If you find yourself uncomfortable, embarrassed, or on edge due to sexual comments and jokes – even if they’re aimed at others – that could be an indicator of hostile work environment harassment.

#2 Unwanted Physical Contact

Unwanted physical contact or invasion of personal space can constitute sexual harassment.

This includes actions like:

  • Inappropriate touching, hugging, shoulder massages, or other unnecessary physical gestures
  • Purposefully brushing up against another in an overtly sexual way
  • Impeding movement or cornering

These behaviors don’t necessarily require groping to cross legal lines. If the physical contact makes you uncomfortable and carries sexual overtones, it may merit addressing.

#3 Persistent Requests for Dates or Sexual Favors

Persistent, unwanted romantic or sexual advances from colleagues can quickly devolve into a hostile, intimidating experience.

Maybe you politely decline an invitation for a date, only to face escalating requests from the same person. Or perhaps a coworker is repeatedly hinting that sexual favors could help your career along. Regardless of the context, this barrage sends an unsettling message: comply with my demands or face personal/professional consequences.

These recurrent, unwelcome advances can cross legal boundaries, creating a hostile work environment. Anyone from peers and subordinates to supervisors or even clients can perpetrate this damaging form of harassment.

#4 Sharing Explicit or Offensive Materials

A pattern of exposing you and coworkers to pornographic content or offensive sexual materials could constitute harassment. These actions undermine your ability to go about your workday productively and comfortably.

What’s more, the perpetrator doesn’t need to be directly targeting you with these materials for them to potentially create a hostile work environment. The mere repeated presence of explicit sexual content may be sufficient grounds to support a legal claim if the material is unwanted, sex based, and severe or pervasive.

#5 Differential Treatment Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation

Too often, employees find themselves facing discrimination, biased evaluations, or limited opportunities due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Supervisors or coworkers may make derogatory comments rooted in outdated gender stereotypes or personal prejudices.

For example, colleagues of differing gender identities are held to separate behavioral standards or face different disciplinary actions for the same offenses. Perhaps promotions and assignments seem to only go to people of a certain gender or sexual orientation.

These disparities, which may be born of conscious or unconscious gender/orientation-based bias, could create a hostile work environment.

Responding to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Report Harassment to Employers

If you find yourself facing any of the above examples or other behaviors indicative of sexual harassment, you should start with your employer.

Both federal and Florida state laws require employers to implement measures to prevent sexual harassment and address cases promptly when they arise. Companies should have clear protocols for addressing harassment. However, the employer must first be put on notice of any wrongdoing before you can pursue a legal claim.

Keep a detailed paper trail documenting each instance of offensive conduct – what happened, when, where, who was involved, and any witnesses present. Then submit official complaints through all required and proper channels at your workplace.

By reporting harassment to your employer, you establish a legal record and compel the company to address the situation or potentially face liability. If the company fails to investigate and take appropriate corrective action, you could have the ability to pursue a legal claim.

File a Formal Complaint with the EEOC

Unfortunately, we know many employers fail in their responsibility to cultivate a safe, harassment-free workplace. If your employer displays a pattern of dismissing claims, mishandling investigations, or allowing harassers to escape accountability, it may be time to escalate the issue.

Employees facing sexual harassment can file a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Florida, you have 300 days from the date of the most recent harassment incident to pursue any federal claims – you have 365 days to pursue any Florida state law claims.

If you file a claim with the EEOC, EEOC investigators will examine your allegations, interview relevant parties, request a position statement from the employer, and determine if a violation of law occurred. If you ultimately prevail on a claim of sexual harassment, you could be entitled to monetary damages such as back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages.

Seeking Legal Counsel from an Experienced Attorney

Whether you’re in the initial stages of reporting harassment or have already filed an EEOC claim without resolution, retaining an experienced employment attorney can be an invaluable asset.

At BT Law Group, our sexual harassment lawyers understand the nuances of federal and Florida laws. We can guide you through the process of compiling evidence, filing charges, documenting damages, and, if necessary – litigating your case before state or federal courts.

We’ll keep you informed at every turn, handling negotiations with employers or opposing counsel as appropriate.

If you believe that you have been the victim of sexual harassment or have experienced incidents that concern you, we encourage you to contact us for a consultation.

Author Bio

BT Law Group is an employment law firm in Miami, FL, founded by attorneys Jason D. Berkowitz and Anisley Tarragona. With a wealth of experience in various legal areas, they represent clients in various legal matters, including discrimination, unpaid wages, wrongful termination, management counseling, and other cases.

Since receiving their Juris Doctorates from the University of Miami School of Law, they have received numerous accolades for their accomplishments, including being selected to Rising Stars by Super Lawyers. Jason was also selected to The 2021 Best Lawyers in South Florida.

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