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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual conduct that affects employment decisions such as whether to hire, fire or promote a worker, or whether to grant a salary raise. It also includes actions and words from supervisors or co-workers that are offensive to the employee personally, or create an offensive or hostile working condition in general.

Sexual harassment may take several forms, but generally includes the following:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors in turn for some type of favorable working condition (for example, a date in exchange for a promotion)
  • Verbal or physical conduct that is offensive to the employee (for example, groping, whistling, leering or use of profanity or sexual innuendos)
  • A workplace environment that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive place to posters hanging on the wall)

Both men and women are protected from sexual harassment on the job. It does not matter whether the harasser is of the opposite sex or of the same sex as the victim or whether the harasser is a co-worker or supervisor. What is important in determining that sexual harassment exists is that the employee is subjected to unwelcome behavior or comments of a sexual nature in the workplace.

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Q. What kinds of sexual harrassment are illegal?
A. Sexual Harrassment is illegal under both Kentucky and Federal law when employer decisons - such as whether to promote, hire, fire, lay off, or adjust working hours - are conditioned on some unwanted and offensive sexual behavior or comment. It is also illegal for a supervisor or manager to allow working conditions to create such a sexually-charged work environment that it interferes with an employee's ability to do her or his work.

Q. How common is sexual harassment against women?
A. A 1995 study by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board reports that over 4596 of American women will experience some form of sexual harassment in their school or workplace. Women are 3 times more likely than men to be victims of sexual harassment.

Q. What are the most common forms of sexual harassment?
A. They are:

  • Whistling, cat calls or indecent gestures
  • Deliberate bumping or leaning against another person
  • Comments about your body or bodily movements
  • Demands for dates or sexual acts
  • Inappropriate grabbing or touching of your body or clothing
  • Sexual phone calls, voice messages or e-mail messages
  • Sending or leaving pornographic materials or sexually explicit pictures
  • Repeating dirty jokes or making lewd comments

Q. Does it matter that I am not the target of the harassment?
A. No. You may have a legitimate claim of sexual harassment if, for example, you were passed over for a promotion in favor of a coworker who gave in to the sexual advances of a supervisor.

Q. How do I know that the person was not simply joking around?
A. Sexual Harassment is not an act of friendliness or mere flirtation. On the contrary, it is often used intentionally to embarrass, intimidate or humiliate the victim, sometimes for the purpose of forcing them out of a job or field of work. There is nothing funny about being embarrassed or made to feel uncomfortable while at work.

Q. What if I did not object to these actions in the past but now find them intolerable?
A. Tell the harasser immediately that, although you did not object in the past, you now find the behavior unwelcome and that if it continues, it is sexual harassment. Just saying "no" does not always stop the behavior. See the following information to determine how to get help in determining if you have a claim of sexual harassment.

Q. When is an employer responsible for the actions of their employees that harass others?
A. An employer is responsible for the behavior of their managers and supervisors whether or not the employer was knowledgeable of the behavior. Ultimately, it is the employer who is liable for any wrongful conduct involving harassment in the workplace. For purposes of sexual harassment, Kentucky law defines an employer as someone who employs 8 or more people. Federal law defines an employer as one thal employs 1.5 or more people.

Q. What can I do if I feel I am being harassed?
A. You can:

  • Say "NO" clearly. Make it clear thal the harassment is unwelcome.
  • Let the harasser know that the conduct is offensive.
  • Do not be argumentative. Do not blame yourself or deny thal you are being harassed. Do not assume that the situation will change or simply go away.
  • Start recording the facts immediately. Include time, dates, situations, comments or gestures and other important details.
  • Always keep your own copy. This documentation is very important and may be used as evidence to support your claim.
  • Keep your documentation in a safe file away from work.
  • If appropriate, discuss the situation with your labor or union representative.
  • Tell your employer about the harassment. File a grievance complaint if it is available to you.
  • Decide whether you want to file a complaint with the appropriate county, slate or federal agency (see following information) and whether you want to speak with an attorney.

Q. How long do I have to file a complaint?
A. Under Kentucky law, you have 180 days from the last incident to file a state claim. A federal claim may be filed within 300 days of the last incident.

Q. What can be done to prevent Sexual Harassment?
A. Sexual Harassment is costly.   It creates an unproductive and disruptive work environment that negatively affects both employers and employees.   Prevention and awareness are the best tools in preventing sexual harassment in the work place.

Q. What can the employer do?
A. The employer can: 

  • Clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Underscore that actions will be taken against those who harass.
  • Provide training for every employee on sexual harassment.
  • Stress how to recognize sexual harassment and what policies and procedures are in place to address an employee's claim.
  • Supply every employee with a written policy on sexual harassment.
  • Prominently post guidelines prohibiting sexual harassment in every work area.
  • Provide training for managers about sexual harassment and train them on how to receive complaints from employees.
  • Establish and publicize a confidential grievance procedure.
  • Make sure that all complaints are handled in a timely and confidential manner.

Q. What can the employee do?
A. The employee can:

  • Treat all co-workers and those you encounter on your job in a respectful and dignified manner.
  • Read and understand the employer's policy on sexual harassment.
  • Openly discuss your expectations and make clear your intolerance of sexual harassment.
  • Do not brush off offensive and unwelcome behavior or comments as being insignificant or simply funny.
  • Do not be pressured to join others in their unacceptable behavior.
  • Maintain a professional demeanor in all work situations

 

Last Updated 10/17/2007
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