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Sexual Harassment At Work – Common Misconceptions

Sexual harassment at work is still a problem in this day and age. In reality, what once used to be overt has gone further underground, and become more subtle. As such, more misconceptions about what constitutes harassment have propagated. It is imperative to be able to distinguish between truth and misinformation.

Myth: Only women have to worry about sexual harassment at work. It doesn’t happen to men.

Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report an average of 16 to 17 percent of sexual harassment charges each year are filed by men. This does not necessarily mean that 16 to 17 percent of alleged aggressors are female, however; it may mean that more men are being harassed by men, or that men felt harassed as a third party witness to someone else being mistreated.

Myth: Unless it creates a hostile work environment, a person’s conduct doesn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment.

While sexual harassment can manifest as a hostile work environment, it can also occur in the form of the classic quid-pro-quo, where an employee may be forced to exchange sexual favors or other favorable treatment for promotions or raises. Just because the entire office is not party to the conduct does not mean the conduct is acceptable.

Myth: If someone doesn’t report harassment at work, it must not be that big of a deal.

There are many reasons why someone might not report harassment or threatening behavior. Unfortunately, corporate culture often rewards the harasser or ignores the problem. The recent complaints of sexual harassment at work against Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, for instance, were initially met with disbelief because so few women had previously indicated any issue when working with him, but it was ascertained that this was due to fear of retaliation.

Myth: If a coworker does not show a deliberate intent to harass or intimidate, it’s not sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a subjective accusation. If you are made to feel uncomfortable by someone brushing against you or by an offhand comment, it is worth pursuing with human resources. The caveat is that unless the conduct is deemed sufficiently egregious, the offender may not be fired or have other serious consequences assessed against them. If the conduct only rises to the level of awkward or uncomfortable, most companies will issue written warnings or separate the two workers—some kind of action less serious than termination.

Myth: You cannot claim harassment if you are not the intended target.

It is uncommon, but depending on the conduct, third parties can and do make harassment claims. The same principles apply to a third party as would to a main participant. If someone is made to feel threatened or uncomfortable, an employer has a duty to at least investigate.

Get Help From an Employment Lawyer

Sexual harassment is very often directed at the person in the office perceived to be the least powerful. Contrary to stereotypes, it can be directed at a person of any gender. If you believe you have been a victim, working with an employment discrimination attorney can help. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston, SC firm are happy to help answer your questions.

Contact us today for assistance with your case.

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