The right to be free from sexual harassment is considered a basic human right in Illinois. Despite this, sexual harassment occurs all the time, in large and small companies across the state. Often times it goes unreported, which only acts to encourage harassers to continue with unwanted sexual advances and harassment. Many people who are the victims of sexual harassment do not report it out of fear for losing their jobs, or just accept it as coming with the territory in certain workplaces. However, you have the right to challenge your employer for sexual harassment, so that yourself and others will not have to endure continued abuse.
Sexual Harassment Laws
Employees and workers are protected from sexual harassment through both state and federal law. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to any company with 15 or more employees. Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, employees are also protected against sexual harassment under state law.
Under the Human Rights Act, sexual harassment is defined as:
“Any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
This means that sexual harassment could include obvious examples such as a supervisor suggesting that if the employee engages in sexual activity with the supervisor, then the employee will get a raise. However, it could also include frequent or repeated jokes, suggestions, or comments that result in an uncomfortable workplace.
Even if an employee does not explicitly complain about sexual harassment, and is not directly penalized for refusing sexual favors, continued sexual harassment can still take a serious toll on your work and well-being. You may feel unsafe to be around certain people in the workplace, be unable to perform your work to the best of your abilities, and even have trouble sleeping. It is important to recognize how harmful sexual harassment can be to you and other people around you, affecting both your job and your personal life.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
It is important for employers to take sexual harassment seriously. They may be required to train employees and have a written sexual harassment policy and program stating that sexual harassment is illegal, defining sexual harassment, and providing examples of sexual harassment. Employers who do not take such basic steps to make employees aware of the serious nature of sexual harassment may be in violation of state law.
There can be any number of examples of possible sexual harassment in the workplace. The harasser can be a co-worker, client, customer, employee in a different department, or even a direct supervisor. It can include obvious sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. It can also include simple teasing or incidents that may not seem serious, but where they are frequent could add up to create a hostile work environment. Some common examples of sexual harassment include:
- Quid pro quo offers of sexual favors in exchange for a promotion, or to keep from being fired;
- Repeated and unwanted sexually suggestive comments;
- Sexually suggestive jokes;
- Explicit or graphic comics or pictures;
- Unwelcome touching or massages;
- Standing too close or brushing their body against someone;
- Talking about past sexual experiences or fantasies;
- Making sexual gestures or hand movements; or
- Attempted sexual assault;
Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment
One of the main reasons people fail to report sexual harassment at work is for fear of retaliation. Especially in a tough job market, people do not want to appear to be someone who complains, or someone who does not fit in with the workplace culture. Sexual harassment is not anything to be taken lightly and it is against the law. Furthermore, it is illegal for an employer to fire you for reporting sexual harassment.
Retaliation against an employee who speaks up about harassment is forbidden under state and federal law. You are also protected if you are cooperating or participating in an investigation or hearing where another employee has complained about sexual harassment. You should not have to be afraid to speak out when you feel you are being harassed, or if you see another co-worker being sexually harassed in the workplace.
Sexual Harassment by Men and Women
The majority of sexual harassment cases involve a male harasser and a female victim. However, sexual harassment can take all forms, including a woman harassing a man, a woman harassing another woman, or a man harassing a man. Unwanted sexual attention is not okay, no matter what the dynamic is, and should be reported and taken seriously by supervisors and companies. If it is not dealt with, you should consider contacting a sexual harassment attorney to ensure that you are respected and treated fairly in the workplace.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
If you believe you may be the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace, you may want to document specific incidents or comments of sexually suggestive emails or statements. Consult your workplace sexual harassment policy, and put any complaints to supervisors in writing. You may wish to file a complaint to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
If the harassment continues, or if your employer has not addressed the issue, you may want to contact an Illinois sexual harassment attorney who will be able to evaluate your case, file a claim or lawsuit, represent you during administrative actions, and if necessary, represent you in court seeking damages and making sure the violators do not continue sexually harassing you or anyone else in the future.
There may be a variety of remedies available in a sexual harassment case. This may include financial damages for lost work, lack of advancement or promotion, or wrongful termination. It may also include punitive damages, which act as a penalty to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar harassment in the future. Another possible remedy could include reinstatement by the employer or other reasonable accommodations.
Sexual Harassment Law Attorneys
If you suspect that you were fired, denied a raise or passed over for a promotion because you refused unwanted sexual favors, or if your workplace is becoming a hostile environment due to repeated, inappropriate sexual comments, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois sexual harassment law. Our attorneys have successfully handled sexual harassment and employment law cases for individuals in Peoria and throughout the state of Illinois. Contact your experienced Illinois sexual harassment law attorneys at Benassi & Benassi. We are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve.