Although it is becoming increasingly more vital to attempt to crack down on the amount and frequency of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace, it is equally as important to learn how to recognize the signs and elements of sexual harassment from a legal standpoint, in order to more effectively address these concerns, as well as to know what your rights are. Legally, there are two ways that one can be harassed while at work: through “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment” harassment.
According to Massachusetts General Law Ch. 151B, “quid pro quo” harassment is defined as:
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decision.
According to Massachusetts General Law Ch. 151B, “hostile work environment” harassment is defined as:
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment.
Before filing a lawsuit, it is important to consider the following list of factors which must be shown in order to succeed on a claim of sexual harassment. Without these elements, it will be significantly more difficult to prevail on a claim against a harasser in the workplace.
- The alleged harasser made sexual advances or sexual requests, or otherwise engaged in conduct of a sexual nature;
- The sexual conduct was unwelcome;
- He or she rejected such advances or conduct; and
- The terms or conditions of his or her employment were then adversely affected –or– he or she submitted to such advances, requests or conduct, and when he or she submitted to the unwelcome sexual conduct, he or she did so in reasonable fear of adverse employment action.
It is important for everyone within the workplace to be both cognizant of and able to recognize statements or actions that may be intended or perceived as sexual harassment. Employees and employers alike should be attune to these behaviors both when it is directed towards them, as well as others around them.
- Inappropriate touching;
- Sexual epithets;
- Sexual conduct or comments;
- Requests for sex;
- Displaying sexually suggestive pictures and objects; and
- Leering, whistling, or sexual gestures.
If you are concerned that sexual harassment may be occurring to co-workers, or if you believe that you have faced sexual harassment yourself, there are a number of options for ways to address the situation. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) recommends that employers have, at a minimum, policies in place stating that workplace sexual harassment, and retaliation against an employee who reports sexual harassment, is illegal. Therefore, a good first step would be to research the company policy for who to address concerns and complaints to, and reach out to that person. If possible, try to remember as many details as possible while the incident(s) is/are still fresh, and include specifics as to when, where and how it happened, as well as the relevant parties (the person harassing, the person being harassed, and any witnesses if applicable).
If this does not end up being helpful in resolving the issues, it is best to report to any supervisor or human resources representative, or in certain situations, if you feel comfortable doing so, sometimes reaching out to the person exhibiting harassing behaviors with why and how their conduct is unacceptable. This is especially true if the conduct seems to be off-hand comments, otherwise intended as harmless.
In the event that addressing these concerns within the immediate workplace does not end up being effective, the best way to ensure that they are properly dealt with is to go to local Commissions that are designed to ensure that anti-discrimination laws are enforced. In Massachusetts, the MCAD would be the best resource, however if some cases the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will also hear complaints and be able to address the situation.
The best way to counteract sexual harassment in the workplace is to increase knowledge and awareness of the signs and types of harassment, as well as intolerance for harassment in the event that a co-worker or supervisor’s conduct begins to match the profile of harassing statements or actions. If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace and would like to speak to an experienced Massachusetts employment lawyer give our office a call now to discuss your case. 617-492-3000 – Our attorneys are available around the clock.
- Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Gov, http://www.mass.gov/mcad/resources/employers-businesses/emp-guidelines-harassment-gen.html#22.
- G.L. Ch. 151B.
- Sexual Harassment, S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm.
- Know Your Rights: Workplace Sexual Harassment, American Association of University Women, http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-at-work/workplace-sexual-harassment/.
- Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, National Women’s Law Center, https://nwlc.org/issue/sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/.