In light of the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood powerhouses such as Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck, one cannot avoid a media story regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The recent lawsuits and allegations from more than fifty Hollywood actresses against Weinstein have brought this deep-rooted problem to the front burner.
More than ever women feel emboldened to put a stop to their harassment, but many do still feel fear of retaliation. Sometimes it is not as simple as coming forward. Many small businesses do not have a Human Resources Department. Sometimes the offender is the one and only boss and owner of the business. Nevertheless, there are avenues that women can explore to protect themselves and their livelihood.
LAW AND BACKGROUND
Currently, 1 out of 6 American women experience sexual harassment each year. An act of sexual harassment occurs every 98 seconds. The majority of the victims (54%) are under the age of 34 years old. Even if you are a man or have not experienced workplace harassment yourself, sexual harassment is still a problem for our friends and daughters.
Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. The federal government established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate and police these cases free of charge to the public.
There are two types of sexual harassment. The first is when the aggressor places a promotion, work assignment, or keeping a job in exchange for sexual behaviors. This is often done by a man in a supervisory position.
The second type is the creation of a hostile work environment where a peer or supervisor makes inappropriate comments, requests sexual favors, and unwanted physical touching. Unwanted physical touching is a crime and can be prosecuted criminally.
Experts say that upon an unwelcome advance, a victim should, if she feels safe tell the perpetrator to “stop” and be blunt and specific about the unwanted behavior. Unfortunately, that does not always work, as sometimes the perpetrator will become angry and be more forceful and aggressive with his victim. This could place a victim in the position of being physically assaulted or raped.
A victim who does not feel safe should remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible and document the altercation by writing it down, telling friends, and if applicable reporting it to local police. Not only is sexual harassment a civil violation, the perpetrator can also be charged criminally if he has inappropriately touched the victim.
DOCUMENT AND TELL SOMEBODY
Many larger companies have an Employee Handbook and/or Human Resources Department that an employee can utilize. The first step is to review your handbook and follow the protocol for reporting the unwanted behavior. It is wise to place this in writing. Assume that this might require meetings or hearings if the aggressor denies the behavior. Sometimes the aggressor’s supervisor will attempt to protect the aggressor. In 2015 there were 40,000 retaliation cases linked to sexual discrimination and harassment.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION (EEOC) IS HERE TO HELP
If the employee does not have any chain of command at work or if the aggressor is the owner of the company, the best thing to do is to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC has field offices all over the United States. It is important that the victim file her complaint within 180 days of the incident. Some states have expanded the deadline to 300 days, but it is best to assume that your state only allows 180 days.
The EEOC employs field agents who will assist with the filing of the Complaint. There are also agents who will investigate the allegations. This is when the documents or witness statements that the victim has made will aid in the aggressor being punished.
There are many remedies that the EEOC can assist the victim seek. Reinstatement with back pay if she has been demoted or terminated; termination of the aggressor; and money damages are some of the solutions that the EEOC can provide.
For more information on what the EEOC can do and to learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace visit www.eeoc.gov.