As there are just as many women as men in today’s jobs, sexual harassment in the workplace is a huge issue in Charleston. Sexual harassment isn’t just limited to women; it can occur toward both sexes. Therefore, employees and employers alike should be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t.
Sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act put in place in 1964. Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination, also including on basis of race, color, national origin, and religion. This title protects men, women, and children from being discriminated against (prevented from employment opportunities on the basis of gender), but also protects from sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual Harassment in Charleston
According to the United States Equal Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as, “unwelcome sexual
advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” This also includes general remarks against a person’s gender, i.e. snide comments on all women (or men).
Another aspect of sexual harassment is the “accidental” touching of the body of someone of the opposite sex. For example, someone squeezes by you in a tight storage room, accidentally brushing against you. Once is truly an accident, but repeated occurrences of this behavior could be considered sexual harassment.
A person who sexually harasses someone else may be a supervisor, co-worker, or even a client or customer. Sexual harassment may also occur between two people of the same gender.
Some behaviors that could be considered sexual harassment include:
- A co-worker pats you on the buttocks as you walk by,
- Sexual teasing or innuendo,
- Questions about one’s personal sexual life or fantasies,
- Whistling or ‘cat-calls’,
- Inappropriate touching,
- Repeatedly asking someone on a date,
- Sexually suggestive gestures,
- Sexual assault or attempted sexual assault,
- Giving gifts,
- Using a position of authority to pressure for sexual favors, or
- Touching oneself sexually around another.
This is not an exhaustive list, and most of these behaviors can be quite subjective to the harassed person.
Sexual harassment is defined as a behavior. There are explicit behaviors that the average person would agree is sexual harassment, such as a co-worker grabbing another in a sexual way. But, there are also more subtle behaviors that, while maybe not behavior everyone will agree on, may cause a “quid pro quo harassment” and/or a “hostile work environment” for the person being harassed.
Charleston Quid Pro Quo Harassment
An example of a Quid Pro Quo harassment would be a supervisor firing or demoting an employee, because said employee refuses to date him or her. Another example is a manager purposely adjusting schedules, so an employee must work difficult shifts or shifts where the supervisor and employee are the only ones working, and are therefore alone.
Another example would be if a supervisor asks for sexual favors in return for favorable employment conditions, or conversely, if the supervisor threatens punishment if the employee refuses their advances.
Hostile Work Environment in Charleston SC
A hostile work environment is one in which an employee must endure constant sexual jokes, innuendoes, or behaviors, even after the employee has requested this behavior stop. This behavior has a detrimental effect on the employee’s job performance.
Some subtle behaviors that might constitute sexual harassment include:
- Constant staring (described by some as ‘he/she was undressing me with his/her eyes)
- Blocking someone’s path, making it so the person must squeeze to get by,
- Following a person
- Sexually explicit stories
- Making facial or physical gestures sexual in nature
What to do if You Believe You Are a Victim
There are several steps you should take if you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment at work. First, you should check your employee handbook to find out if your employer has policies against sexual harassment. If they do, follow the steps laid out in your handbook.
You might feel that you are able to discuss the behavior with the person you think is harassing you and ask them to stop the offending behavior. In this case, feel free to do so, though keep in mind, this may not curb the person’s behavior. If you’re not comfortable discussing it with him or her, then go to your immediate supervisor, or, if the supervisor is the person harassing you, go to his or her superior.
Keep in mind that it’s extremely important to keep written documentation. This should include the dates and times the behavior occurred, as well as the location of the behavior. If you can, also add witness statements from co-workers or any other people who might have seen the harassment. Oral or unsigned documents are NOT enough.
When speaking to a supervisor about harassing behavior, tell him or he what steps, if any, you’ve already taken to resolve the situation. This is where your written documentation comes in handy. Your supervisor may request copies of your documents and open an investigation into the harassment.
If, after the above steps have not changed your situation, you might want to consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Do not delay if you decide to go this route; most cases must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days (or 6 months) to preserve your right to file a claim at the state level. Federal level allows for 300 days (about 10 months) to file.
Filing Charges in Charleston
In South Carolina, in order to file a ‘hostile work environment’ charge, you must be able to prove the following:
- You experienced unwanted sexual advances or were asked for sexual favors,
- That you would not have experienced this harassment if you were the other gender,
- This harassment must:
- Affect your work conditions,
- Interfered with your work environment, and
- Created an offensive or hostile work environment, and
- Your employer failed to prevent or correct the harassment.
There are a number of steps you must take to file charges. These include:
- Filing charges with the EEOC (as mentioned above) or the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC),
- Participating in an investigation—either agency will investigate your case, including looking over employment records and documents (e-mail or other correspondence) and interviewing witnesses. It’s important to fully participate in the investigation,
- Mediation—you may be asked to go through a mediation process,
- Going to a hearing, or
- Filing a lawsuit if all other steps have been exhausted without relief of the situation, preferably with the help of an experienced South Carolina sexual harassment attorney.
Hiring a Sexual Harassment Attorney in Charleston
While you’re not required to hire an attorney to file sexual harassment charges with the EEOC, most people will probably feel more comfortable having a professional represent them. Many law offices offer experienced sexual harassment attorneys working in the area of employment law.
Once you decide to hire a lawyer, you should seek those who are experienced South Carolina sexual harassment attorneys. David Aylor is an experienced Charleston sexual harassment attorney. The law firm also has offices in North Charleston, Walterboro, and Myrtle Beach, and offers a wide range of practice areas.
Hiring an attorney for any action is a tough step for many people who may have never had any experience at all with lawyers. It can be a frightening prospect. Your attorney should offer a consultation, where you will present your case. Bring all documentation you have with you to the first appointment. Once the attorney has reviewed your case, he or she should give you advice on how to proceed.
It’s important to remember your attorney has experience in dealing with sexual harassment cases. He or she may ask questions you’re not entirely comfortable with, but know that it’s important to answer these questions as honestly as possible. Withholding information is not the best way to proceed with your case.
Sexual harassment, whether in the workplace or anywhere else, is something that every person should be free from experiencing. However, we all know this is not a perfect world we live in, and every one of us has the chance of being sexually harassed at some point in our lives. Sexual harassment can cause embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, and even threaten our employment.
When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, know that there is action you can take against the person who is harassing you. Start first with your employee handbook, and if that doesn’t resolve the situation, don’t delay in taking the next steps. A delay may hurt your case, or, if you wait too long, you may not be able to file at all. Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing more than grown-up bullying, and is not something you have to accept!