Sexual harassment in the workplace is a profoundly distressing violation that can have significant emotional and professional impacts. Understanding the rights that are in place for victims of such acts is crucial for recovery and justice.
Victims can navigate a complex and often confusing process by being aware of these rights, allowing them to defend their dignity and seek rightful recourse.
A right to a safe and respectful work environment
Every individual has the right to a safe and respectful work environment. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. federal law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
A right to report violations without retaliation
Victims of sexual harassment have the right to report the incident to their employer without fear of retaliation. It’s illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment or participate in a workplace investigation about sexual harassment. This means that victims cannot be fired, demoted or mistreated because they reported harassment.
A right to file a complaint with a government agency
If the employer fails to address the issue adequately, victims have the right to file a complaint with a government agency, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC can investigate the claim, and if they find the claim valid, they can either file a lawsuit on the victim’s behalf or issue a right-to-sue letter allowing the victim to file a lawsuit in court.
A right to confidentiality
Confidentiality is crucial in cases of sexual harassment. Victims have the right to keep their identities and the details of their complaints confidential to the extent possible. This means that employers must ensure privacy when an employee reports sexual harassment and during any subsequent investigation — not “spread the word” around the workplace.
Anyone who’s a victim of sexual harassment should ensure they understand their rights. Working with someone familiar with these matters may help you to learn what you can and should do.