Sexual harassment plagues far too many workplace environments. Women regularly call us reporting sexual misconduct throughout Ohio. From Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Springfield, Urbana, and beyond. Technology and social media encourage behaviors that lead to sexual harassment, portraying them as fantasies. Sexual harassment is not a fantasy. It is harassment and nothing more. Employers are well advised to clean up their workspaces by educating employees and enforcing strict policies and procedures to stop this ever growing behavior. Until then, individuals should educate themselves on what to do when you encounter sexual harassment.
First, it is important to understand the nature of the beast called sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. and Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02(A). It can be defined as “severe or pervasive conduct that can take many forms, including unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and inappropriate sexual comments or references.” Sexual harassment can be physical, but it can also be verbal or visual and can involve either an express or implied expectation that in order to keep your job, you must “tolerate” or “play along with” this type of behavior. This expectation may also present itself when the boss suggests they are looking to promote you or give you a raise, so long as you don’t burst the bubble of their sexual fantasy.
A consensual relationship – where both parties knowingly agree to engage in sex or sexually charged talk – is not generally sexual harassment. Unless retaliation occurs when one tries to stop. That is against the law. Retaliation occurs when an individual reports misconduct then is punished in some way at the workplace. Common punishments include humiliating in front of colleagues, denying a promotion or raise, reducing hours or compensation, writing up a disciplinary step, or firing. When these occur following a report of misconduct, that signals retaliation. And the employee likely has an action against the employer.
The first thing to do when you believe you were sexually harassed or retaliated against is GET WHAT OCCURRED IN WRITING AND SEND IT TO THE EMPLOYER BY EMAIL OR FAX. Then call an attorney. Do not fall for flattery or sweet talk, or the promise of a raise or promotion, but instead protect yourself! The most common mistake people make when dealing with sexual harassment or retaliation is failing to document in writing their reports to human resources or superiors. It is imperative to report the misconduct to the appropriate individuals in writing, because at the end of the day, if the boss is the perpetrator, the human resources department is controlled by him. And the report must be done in a way you can prove it was sent. We recommend email or fax. Handing someone a note or writing a letter is not ideal. They can deny they saw it. While this is not always the case, it is important to take every precaution in order to protect yourself from these situations, including documenting all occurrences in writing and reporting to human resources or your supervisor in writing.
It is true that sexual harassment plagues far too many workplace environments today, but through education and strict policies, employers can effectively clean up their workplaces. Furthermore, employees should take the initiative to educate themselves on what sexual harassment really is, and what they can do to protect themselves if sexual harassment occurs in the work place.
 Understand Duties and Rights Regarding Sexual Harassment, Ohio State Bar Association, Oct. 1, 2015, https://www.ohiobar.org/ForPublic/Resources/LawYouCanUse/Pages/LawYouCanUse-378.aspx.