Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassing someone because of their sex, which includes making unwanted sexual advances, threatening to demote someone if they don't give sexual favors or making offensive comments about someone's sex.
Last year, more than 11,000 people filed sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission recovered $48.4 million through resolving the complaints, not including money obtained through litigation.
Despite high-profile sexual-harassment suits and settlements on the evening news, however, misconceptions remain about what constitutes sexual harassment. For example, people of either sex can be harassers and victims, and the victim does not have to be the opposite sex of the harasser. Last year, 16.4 percent of the people who filed complaints with the EEOC were males.
The harasser's target is not the only victim of harassment; offensive behavior can affect others if it creates a hostile work environment for them. For example, when a man makes offensive sexual comments to a woman in the office, the person sitting in the next desk is a victim as well.
The EEOC says the best way to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace is by preventing it. This means making sure employees know that sexual harassment is not acceptable and how they can file a complaint if they are being harassed. It also means letting people know what sexual harassment is and how to avoid becoming a harasser.
Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment:
• Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment.
• The victim is anyone affected by harassment, including the target and bystanders.
• Harassment does not have to result in lower pay or job loss.
• To be considered harassment, the harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
• Behavior from supervisors, co-workers, clients and customers can be harassing.
• Federal sexual harassment laws apply to companies that have 15 or more employees.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can include:
• Unwelcome sexual advances.
• Requests for sexual favors.
• Inappropriate touching.
• Offensive remarks about a person's gender.
• Firing or demoting someone if they do not respond to the harassment.
• Behavior that creates a hostile work environment.
• Behavior from a person of the opposite or same sex of the victim.
More info for employers and employees: http://www.eeoc.gov.
What to Do
In her book "Back Off! How To Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers" (Touchstone, 1993, $24.95), Martha Langelan recommends these steps if you're being harassed:
• Do the unexpected: Name the behavior. Whatever your harasser just did, say it, and be specific.
• Hold the harasser accountable. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen. Let others know about the activity. Visibility undermines harassment; privacy protects it.
• Be honest, direct, blunt, serious. Speak the truth without threats, insults, or obscenities or appeasing statements.
• Demand that the harassment stop.
• Be clear that all people have the right to be free from sexual harassment. Object to harassment as a matter of principle.
• Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics.
• Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting body language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance. Don't smile. Timid, submissive body language will undermine the seriousness of your response.
• End the interaction with a strong closing statement: "You heard me. Stop harassing."