What is the legal definition of sexual harassment?
For sexual harassment to violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, it must be “unwelcome” and “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of (the victim’s) employment and create an abusive working environment.”
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “In determining whether unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level of a “hostile environment” in violation of Title VII, the central inquiry is whether the conduct ‘unreasonably interfer(es) with an individual’s work performance’ or creates ‘an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.’ Thus, sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment.”
An employer can be held liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor, a co-worker or a non-employee.
Source: EEOC https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/upload/currentissues.pdf, research
If you believe you have been harassed at work…
The EEOC recommends:
1) If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the person who is harassing you to stop.
2) If you do not feel comfortable confronting the harasser directly, or if the behavior does not stop, follow the steps below:
Check to see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. This may be on the employer’s website. If it’s not, check your employee handbook. Finally, you can ask any supervisor (it does not have to be your supervisor) or someone in Human Resources (if your employer has an HR department) whether there is an anti-harassment policy and if so, to give you a copy.
If there is a policy, follow the steps in the policy. The policy should give you various options for reporting the harassment, including the option of filing a complaint.
If there is no policy, talk with a supervisor. You can talk with your own supervisor, the supervisor of the person who is harassing you, or any supervisor in the organization. Explain what has happened and ask for that person’s help in getting the behavior to stop.
The law protects you from retaliation (punishment) for complaining about harassment. You have a right to report harassment, participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit, or oppose harassment, without being retaliated against for doing so.
You always have an option of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC to complain about the harassment. In Georgia, there is a 180-day time limit for filing a charge, so contact EEOC promptly. You can also meet with EEOC to discuss your situation and your options. This conversation is confidential. Note: Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint process and different time limits.