Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Q: What is sexual harassment?

A: Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct directed at a person because of their gender. There are two types of sexual harassment:

  • “Quid Pro Quo Harassment”, which is when an employer makes job decisions based on sexual conduct. For example, if an employer tells you that you will not get a promotion unless you go on a date with him or her, your employer has engaged in quid pro quo harassment; and
  • “Hostile Work Environment Harassment”, which is when an employee is forced to work in an offensive and abusive environment. For a work environment to be bad enough to be considered sexual harassment, the abusive conduct must be so severe that it would affect the workplace for the average person. (Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)).

Q: Is sexual harassment illegal?

A: Yes. Sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination based on gender. You do not have to put up with harassment at work. However, only companies with four or more people can be held liable for sexual harassment.

Q: The law only prohibits sexual harassment by supervisors…Right?

A: Wrong. The law prohibits sexual harassment by supervisors, coworkers, and even people who are not employees of the company. Your company has a duty to keep your workplace free of harassment. So long as your employer is aware that you are being harassed and fails to take appropriate measures to protect you, it can be held liable.

Q: Are men protected by sexual harassment laws?

A: Yes. Men are protected by sexual harassment laws too. Sexual harassment laws protect you so long as you are being harassed because of your gender—whether you are a man or a woman. Furthermore, you can be sexually harassed by a person of the same sex. It doesn’t matter if the same-sex harasser is homosexual or heterosexual. If you are being harassed because of your gender, the sexual harassment law protects you.

Q: You are being sexually harassed. What should you do?

A: Sexual harassment is often about control. People harass to show that they have power over you. But the law is on your side. So, you take control of the situation. Make sure to keep detailed notes describing everything that you’ve been through. If your company has a sexual harassment policy, you should follow that policy, otherwise:

  1. First tell the person harassing you to stop. Be direct and firm. Very often this simple step will stop the harassment.
  2. If simply telling the harasser to stop doesn’t work, write a letter describing the situation to the harasser’s supervisor. Include specific instances when you were harassed and possible ways to solve the problem (such as having the harasser transferred).
  3. If reporting the abuse to the harasser’s supervisors doesn’t work, it may be time to file a complaint.

Q: How do you file a complaint?

A: To file a complaint, you must contact either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Your company is not allowed to retaliate against you for filing a sexual harassment complaint. Be aware that there are time restrictions on filing sexual harassment complaints. Usually, you only have 180 day to file a complaint with the PHRC and 300 days to file a complaint with the EEOC (43 P.S. § 959(h), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)).

You can contact the EEOC at:
1001 Liberty Avenue
Suite 300
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4187
Voice: (412) 644-3444 / Text Telephone (412) 644-2720
Website: www.eeoc.gov

You can contact the PHRC at:
301 Fifth Avenue
Suite 390
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Voice: (412) 565-5395 / Text Telephone: (412) 565-5711
Website: www.phrc.state.pa.us