Under federal and West Virginia state laws, you have the right to work free from gender discrimination or harassment. Most people know that sexual harassment is wrong, but they don’t know exactly what the term means. Simply put, sexual harassment is — according to Black’s Law Dictionary — “a type of employment discrimination consisting of verbal or physical abuse of a sexual nature.”
Admittedly, this is a somewhat vague definition. Fortunately, though, laws and court rulings have provided guidance to employers and employees alike as to what sorts of behaviors are suitable in the workplace versus those which likely rise to the level of harassment.
In order for conduct to be considered sexual harassment, it must meet several different criteria. The conduct must be:
- Of a sexual nature — it does not need to be explicit (like unwanted touching, “dirty” jokes, pornographic pictures/drawings or verbal innuendoes); comments about a person’s wardrobe choices, blocking someone’s access to a common employee area, “picking on” an employee just because he or she is of a particular gender or lingering glances at one’s body might all be construed as sexual in nature even though they are seemingly non-invasive
- Unwanted — if the recipient appreciates the attention, encourages it or welcomes it, it is not harassment
- Having an impact upon the recipient’s working environment — this can happen in a number of different ways; if someone is upset at the prospect of continued harassment and his/her work performance suffers, if the recipient of harassment rejects the harasser’s advances and is retaliated against, or if the victim feels unable to embrace professional opportunities because of feared contact with the harasser
- Pervasive — this element can apply both to the number of incidents (a single “dirty” joke being told doesn’t likely rise to the level of sexual harassment in the workplace) and severity of them (an attempted rape will be treated more harshly than the use of mildly derogatory language)
If you feel like you are being harassed in the workplace because of your gender, take action. Tell the harasser — in no uncertain terms, and preferably in writing — that you do not appreciate his/her conduct and that you want it to stop immediately. Also complain to your supervisor or your employer’s human resources department; this can go a long way toward both putting a stop to the harassment in the short term and possibly preserving your legal rights to bring a suit in the future if conditions do not improve.
Our firm serves those who have been discriminated against in Charleston and throughout the state of West Virginia. If you have questions about sexual harassment or you think you are being discriminated against and you don’t call us, please call another experienced West Virginia employment law attorney today to protect your workplace rights.