Recent scandals involving high-profile celebrities accused of sexual assault, and the “Me Too” movement, have rightfully pushed the problem of sexual assault in the workplace to the forefront of mainstream conversation. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that often results in lifelong emotional (and sometimes physical) pain. Sexual abuse and assault is not something that only takes place in dark alleys by a stranger. Unfortunately, it can occur anywhere including the workplace.
It’s difficult to determine how many people have been victims of sexual misconduct in the workplace since not everyone reports the incident. Sexual abuse at work may be underreported due to fear and embarrassment. It’s essential to understand that every employee has the right to work in a safe environment free from sexual abuse.
What Kinds of Behavior are Considered Sexual Abuse or Harassment?
Sexual misconduct in the workplace can take on many forms. It can range from sexual innuendo to sexual assault and rape. Although women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and assault at work, men can be victimized as well. The typical manifestation of sexual abuse occurs between members of the opposite sex. But sexual harassment can also occur between two people of the same sex.
According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual conduct or advances that creates an offensive or hostile work environment. Sexual misconduct includes harassment, abuse, and assault and may include the following:
- Sexual comments and jokes
- Displaying explicit sexual content
- Unwelcome touching
- Unwelcome requests for sexual favors, such as bribes for sex in exchange of a promotion
Effects of Sexual Assault, Abuse, and Harassment
Sexual abuse in the workplace can affect all areas of a person’s life including their work performance. For example, it can lead to increased absences from work and decreased productivity.
It is not surprising that being a victim of sexual harassment often alters a victim’s career, especially when the victim is a woman. In a study published in the Journal of Gender and Society in 2017, women who were victims of sexual harassment often left their job to escape the environment. The change in jobs often increased financial stress, as well as altered their career achievements.
Sexual abuse also often has a significant effect on a victim’s life outside the workplace. For instance, it can cause physical symptoms including sleep difficulties, headaches, and digestive problems. The impact of sexual abuse in the workplace also often goes deeper than physical complaints. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety can also develop.
Victims may not come forward in fear of losing their job or worrying about how their co-workers will view their allegations. If the harasser is a supervisor, it may also be intimidating for a victim to speak out. Some victims of sexual abuse in the workplace don’t know where to turn, so they remain silent. In other cases, a victim may submit to an unwanted sexual request out of fear for their job.
An Employer’s Responsibility
Whether you work for a private company, a government agency or a large corporation, employers have an obligation to keep their employees safe from sexual misconduct, abuse, and assault. Both federal and state laws were enacted, which require employers to maintain a work environment free from sexual harassment and abuse. Employers who fail to protect their employees may be liable.
There are several things employers and corporations should have in place to protect their workers. When it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, prevention is the best strategy. For instance, a zero-tolerance sexual harassment code of conduct should be communicated to all employees.
Training on sexual harassment prevention should also be provided to employees. Also, employers should establish an effective grievance policy, which helps victims feel protected against retaliation. Corporations and employers need to have procedures in place to handle sexual misconduct complaints confidentially and quickly.
Sexual abuse and assault in the workplace is a shocking and upsetting event. It can have long-term effects on the victim. If an employer is informed of sexual misconduct, they need to take prompt and reasonable action to correct and stop the behavior. If an employer fails to do so, they may be liable.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault at work, our experienced and top-rated attorneys are here to help. Please call our office at 312-698-3694 to schedule a free consultation.