Legal Guide

Putting a Stop to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The days when employees were expected to smile in the face of demeaning and disrespectful behavior in the workplace are, thankfully, behind us. This does not mean that sexual harassment is a thing of the past, but today there is a federal legal framework in place that defines sexual harassment in the workplace and provides a mechanism for victims of this behavior to seek legal recourse. If you believe that you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, your first response should be to report the harassment to your employer. If the employer is not able to resolve the situation quickly and completely, you should contact a Utah sexual harassment lawyer to ensure that your right to a harassment-free workplace is protected.

What is sexual harassment?

Contrary to what many people may think, both men and women can be the victims of sexual harassment, although cultural norms may make it more difficult for men to bring forward a charge of sexual harassment to their employers. In the most basic sense, sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual advance. This can include touching, displays of sexual material, sexually suggestive comments or jokes. It can also include any implication that a person’s job prospects in some way hinge of the provision of sexual favors. Targets of sexual harassment may be made to feel that they “can’t take a joke” or that they are “too uptight.” While it can be especially problematic if the harasser is in a position of authority, sexual harassment can be perpetrated by co-workers. Generally speaking, sexual harassment refers to a pattern of repeated behavior rather than to one incident, unless the victim is physically assaulted. The net result of sexual harassment is the creation of a hostile or intimidating workplace, and the limitation of a victim’s prospects for advancement.

Is there anything I can do myself?

Yes, there is. It may be the case that a colleague simply does not understand that his or her behavior is being perceived by you as sexual harassment. If you feel comfortable doing so, it may be possible to resolve the situation simply by explaining to the other person in specific terms that their behavior is unwelcome and needs to stop immediately. In many situations, this will be sufficient to put an end to it. Be sure to document the conversation in the change that the situation continues and needs to be escalated.

Can I be punished for complaining about sexual harassment?

The law says that you cannot be punished in any way for bringing an allegation of sexual harassment to the attention of your employer, nor for participating in an investigation of workplace sexual harassment. Most employers will take such allegations very seriously and will investigate accordingly. That said, if you feel that the employer has taken the view that you are “over-reacting” to particular behaviors, or that you are being undermined at work as a result of your claim, you may decide to consult a lawyer.

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