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Sexual Harassment Is Not Always Clear

Los Angeles, CA (Law Firm Newswire) June 21, 2019 - In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace has been a primetime topic more than ever before. Besides uncovering the enormity of the issue, these viral hashtags and the movement they represent have also started a national conversation about what constitutes sexual harassment and what does not. Most people know that there is a line that should not be crossed; however, where that line is depends on who is asked.

Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that between 25 and 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment sometime in their careers. Why the huge range in those figures? That is because sexual harassment is not always clear, and it very often goes unchecked.

“When it comes to your job, you have the right to work in an environment that is free from abuse and harassment. It can be hard to tell what sexual harassment is,” said Betsy Havens, executive director of Los Angeles employment law firm Strong Advocates. “Complicated emotions may further obscure a situation. However, if you feel uncomfortable with something that is happening, that is a good indicator that something is amiss.”

There are two categories of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment, and they are both illegal. Quid pro quo means “this for that” and is a proposition for sexual favors in exchange for a benefit. For example, an employer suggesting that in order to be promoted and get a pay raise an employee would need to perform sexual acts with them is definite sexual harassment. This can be a onetime occurrence.

The lines start to blur around a hostile work environment claim. What makes a hostile work environment is open to interpretation but the basis of it is behavior that is unwanted and based on sex, gender or sexuality. The acts must be persistent too; a hostile work environment claim would not be based on a singular incident.

Sexual harassment takes many forms, and some may be surprising. Recently, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has been in the news for hugging and touching female associates and acquaintances too much. Although he is not accused of outright indecent touch such as fondling, his behavior could still be considered harassment if it were persistent enough. For more examples of surprising types of sexual harassment see Three Types of Sexual Harassment That Might Surprise You.

Questioning whether sexual harassment is occurring at work, visit Strong Advocates here for free resources on sexual harassment.