On the Job: What is Sexual Harassment?

This column is written and sponsored by Alan Lescht and Associates, PC, an employment litigation firm in Washington, DC, that handles cases involving contract disputes, wage and hour issues, discrimination and retaliation, wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation and security clearances.

News of sexual harassment has dominated the media over the past several weeks. What are the signs of sexual harassment? What behavior rises to the level of illegal sexual harassment? And what are the solutions?

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of unwanted behavior. The law recognizes two distinct types of sexual harassment. The first type is hostile work environment. This occurs when a supervisor or coworker subjects an employee to unwelcome sexual conduct, which may include touching and/or comments. Unwelcome conduct does not necessarily have to be sexually explicit. For example, requests for dates or comments about physical appearance may constitute harassment, depending on the circumstances.

However, harassment is only illegal if it is “severe and pervasive,” which means that the harassment was so bad and occurred so frequently that it basically changed the employee’s work environment.

The second type or illegal sexual harassment is quid pro quo, where employment, or aspects of employment, are conditioned on satisfaction of a sexual demand. An example is when a supervisor hints that he/she will give an employee a promotion or a raise in exchange for a sexual favor.

How do I stop sexual harassment?

Your options depend on who you work for and where you work. Federal government workers must contact their agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the harassment. After the agency investigates, employees have several options, including the right to request a hearing before a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) administrative judge, or to file a lawsuit in federal court.

DC government employees must also contact their agency’s EEO counselor to file a complaint. The agency will investigate the complaint, and then the employee may file a formal complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights.

However, non-government employees can file a complaint directly with the EEOC and/or a state or local human rights agency. The EEOC or the state or local agency will notify the employer and investigate the complaint. After the investigation is over, the employee can file a lawsuit.

If you work for a non-government employer in DC, you can also file a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, even if you didn’t file a complaint with the EEOC or the DC Office of Human Rights first. However, a lawsuit is public. This may help resolve your claim quickly, but it may also draw unwanted attention.

In any case, it may be helpful to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can discuss your options and help you find a solution that is tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of your case.

Do you need help dealing with sexual harassment at work?

If you or someone you know are facing sexual harassment at work, contact Alan Lescht & Associates today to set up a consultation. We regularly and successfully litigate sexual harassment cases.

Call us today at (202) 463-6036, send us an email, or visit our website and blog. Our 13 attorneys have vast experience in all areas of employment law. Super Lawyers, Washingtonian, Newsweek, AVVO and others have recognized us as a leading employment firm in DC.

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