With the recent legal upheaval at the U.S. Supreme Court, many are wondering what other rights are now at issue. One such right is the right to work free from sexual harassment, and some wonder whether sexual harassment is still illegal.
Is it still illegal?
Absolutely. Sexual harassment is prohibited by federal law. It is not a judicially determined right. Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and its implementing regulations: 29 C.F.R. Part 1601 and 29 C.F.R. Part 1604.
What is prohibited?
Bluntly, any negative employment action is against federal law if it is based on the employee’s sex. This means an employee or potential employee cannot be harassed based on their sex. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal harassment of a sexual nature and any unwanted sexual contact.
What is not prohibited?
Prohibited actions must be either direct, like quid pro quo (i.e., do a sexual favor for a promotion), or be so pervasive as to create a hostile work environment, or result in an adverse employment action (i.e., fired, demoted, etc.). What is not prohibited is one-off comments, isolated incidents or “simple teasing.”
Who is covered?
To be covered under the federal law, most types of employers must have at least 15 employees. All government employers, employment agencies and labor organizations qualify automatically. Employers that are not covered federal are likely covered by local and state antidiscrimination codes.
What happens if I am a victim?
Nothing happens automatically. Contacting an attorney to guide you through the process is always a good idea, but starting the complaint process with your employer is the usual first step. Keep in mind that you normally only have 180 days from the last harassing activity to report the conduct to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And, companies know this. If you work at a company, they could drag their “investigation” out to ensure you miss this requirement because the requirement is not extended by you making your company complaint.