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Sexually Harassed

Sexual harassment is illegal and no worker has to tolerate it. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations and the federal government.

Sexual harassment is unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • You must submit to the behavior to keep your job or to get a promotion, a good job assignment or some other job benefit; or
  • The behavior unreasonably interferes with your work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

Examples of sexual harassment include pressure for sexual favors; pornographic material left on your desk or work area; touching, "goosing," patting, hugging; leaning against; leering, whistling, catcalls or howling; using demeaning terms such as "sweetheart," babe" or "honey"; sexual teasing and jokes; posting cartoons, posters or drawings of a sexual or insulting nature; asking personal questions, telling lies or spreading rumors about your social or sex life; making sexual remarks or gestures; and actual or attempted sexual assault.

The victim as well as the harasser can be male or female; the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however. It can include offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s sex, such as making offensive comments about women in general. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker or a non-employee, such as a customer or client of the employer. The victim does not have to be the individual harassed but could be anyone affected by the harasser’s offensive conduct.

An employer has the legal responsibility to investigate sexual harassment complaints and to take appropriate actions to end the harassment and make sure it doesn't happen again.

You are not required to complain to the person who is harassing you but it is helpful for the victim to have informed the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. You should make sure that you, your union, if you have one, or someone you designate tells management about your complaint. You also should keep a written record of the harassment incidents and evidence of your job performance. If your employer has an internal complaint procedure, you are required to use it.

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment and discrimination, you may choose to find recourse in legal action. Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

If you think you have been sexually harassed, you may file employment discrimination charges as an individual or as part of a group (known as "class action") with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The charges must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. Federal employees have 45 days to contact an EEO counselor. If you are represented by a union, contact your union steward, who can help you file charges. Federal employees must file discrimination charges within their own agency.

You can file a charge in person, by mail or by calling the EEOC at 800-669-4000 for more information (800-669-6820 for the hearing impaired). All charges must include:

  • Your name, address and telephone number.
  • Your job title.
  • A brief description of the problem.
  • When the incident or incidents occurred.
  • And the type of discrimination you encountered.

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For more information, visit the EEOC question-and-answer page about discrimination, as well as these helpful sites:

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