Harassment in the Workplace


As the Me Too movement has made clear, sexual harassment in the workplace remains a chronic problem. The problem persists in all industries and at all levels. Too many people, both women and men, find themselves being sexually harassed when they are just trying to do their jobs. The lawyers at King & Greisen have devoted their professional careers to fighting sexual harassment, protecting employees subjected to sexual harassment and seeking remedies and compensation for individuals subjected to sexual harassment.i

The majority of women in the workplace report being sexually harassed, but most do nothing about it. The federal law making sexual harassment illegal was passed in 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq., prohibits an employer from discriminating against any individual with respect to her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s sex. 42 U.S.C.S. §2000e-2(a)(1). In 1993, the US Supreme Court determined that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination that was also illegal. While the federal law only covers companies with 15 or more employees, there is also a Colorado state law that covers small employers.

What is sexual harassment?
It is being subjected to unwelcome harassment that makes it hard to do your work. This harassment usually is, but does not have to be, sexual. If your boss tries to get you to have a sexual relationship with him or her, that is obviously sexual harassment. If you are harassed because you are a women in a traditionally male job, that is sexual harassment. If you are a man harassed in a sexual way by male coworkers, that counts. If you are sexually harassed by customers and your boss knows about it but does nothing, that counts.

How much harassment is too much?
It depends on how often it happens, how bad  it is and who does it. Obviously being sexually assaulted only has to happen once! Being touched inappropriately is worse than being subjected to sexual, sexist or other offensive remarks. But, if offensive remarks are often made to you, it begins to wear you down. Does the harassment make it harder to do your job? It is obviously worse if your boss is making the remarks, because that person is clearly abusing his or her power over you.

Even if you have managed to put with sexually harassing behavior for years, you still have a right to complain about sexual harassment! Sometimes employees feel like they have to put up with the harassment and cannot complain because if they do, they will lose their job. You should know that if you do complain about sexual harassment, it is illegal to retaliate against you for complaining.
People often worry that they don’t have “evidence” of harassment. We all know that the worst kind of sexual harassment does mot usually occur in front of other people. Your description of what happened counts as evidence. Too often employers try to say there is no evidence of harassment – calling it “he said, she said.” That is not a legitimate basis for doing nothing! Sometimes there is evidence – text messages, phone messages, security tapes, people who saw what happened. If you do have evidence, save the text messages and phone messages. Ask the employer to save the security tape. Ask the people who were nearby if they saw what happened.

What if the employer has a harassment policy and you don’t follow it? While it is always better if you do follow the company’s sexual harassment on reporting, the majority of my clients have not followed the company’s policy – often times they didn’t even know that the company had a policy. That fact does not mean there is no legal claim.
With all this sexual harassment training out there, while is there still sexual harassment in the workplace? Even if the training is really good and the company policy is really strong, if the company does not follow up with actual and serious discipline when there is sexual harassment, employees know that the company is not serious about eliminating sexual harassment from the workplace.
The sexual harassment laws have a relatively short period of time within which you need to take action unless it just keeps happening over and over. This can be a tricky and a technicality that could hurt your ability to pursue a good claim. When in doubt, check with an attorney about whether you have a sexual harassment claim, even if you think it has been too long.
Harassment in the workplace won’t stop on its own. Calling employers out on sexual harassment is important to stand up for yourself but also to make sure it stops and doesn’t keep happening to others!!!

iThe law forbids harassing an employee on other bases as well, such as age, race, national origin, disability and religion.