When people think about sexual harassment in the workplace, they often imagine a sensationalized scene involving overt sexual commentary and actions. While such a scene does certainly play out in workplaces across New York, many cases of sexual harassment are more subtle and harder to define.
For instance, rather than making crude gestures and comments to a woman in the middle of the break room with witnesses, a supervisor might instead touch the woman during a private meeting. If called on it, he might try to argue that the touch was accidental or that she is misinterpreting the action.
To make it a little easier to identify sexual harassment, you should understand that there are two types of harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo
This type of harassment involves offering something in exchange for sexual favors. A boss might say you will get promoted if you go on a date, or promise you a job if you perform a sexual act. It might also be made clear that you will have to put up with harassing behavior in order to keep your job.
Hostile work environment
This type of sexual harassment is more repetitive or ongoing. It refers to a workplace environment that would make a reasonable person feel embarrassed, threatened, abused or offended because of inappropriate - and ongoing -- conduct. A hostile work environment can be created when people share or post offensive materials, make unwelcome comments or jokes, leer, or touch colleagues in an inappropriate and unwanted manner.
These examples should highlight the fact that sometimes sexual harassment in the workplace is confined to a single or distinct act, and other times it is a pervasive situation involving numerous parties and acts.
If you read these descriptions and find that one (or both) is descriptive of your workplace and experiences, it could be a good idea to consult an attorney to discuss the possibility of filing a sexual harassment claim. It may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing to talk about it, but getting a legal perspective on the situation will help you understand your rights and your legal options.