Sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law

The Madison County Record Aug. 10, 2008, 8:40am

If someone at work makes sexually offensive remarks or romantic overtures, and you've made it clear that you're insulted or not interested, you may have grounds to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace, and sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination.

The victim can be either a man or woman or the same sex as the violator, and the perpetrator may be any number of people in the workplace from a supervisor to a co-worker, customer or vendor.

Furthermore, the harassment can be verbal or physical. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency in charge of enforcing civil rights laws, defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature… when…submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions…or such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."

In essence, there are two types of sexual harassment: one where submission to the harassment is used as the basis for employment decisions, and the other, where harassment creates an offensive work environment.

To constitute harassment, the employee must show that the sexual advances were unwelcome – even if they ended up succumbing to the harassment.

Employees who believe they may be the victim of harassment should immediately inform their supervisor, or if the supervisor is the harasser, the supervisor's superiors. If there is a grievance procedure through a union, the employee should use it. Employees can also file a claim with the EEOC.

It is important for victims to keep a paper trail, detailing dates, times and places of the incidents as well as any witnesses present.

Employees who accuse employers of discrimination, and believe they were improperly punished through, for example, an unpaid leave or suspension, may find it easier to show they suffered retaliation under a ruling issued in June 2006 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously for the plaintiff in a case involving a factory worker who had accused a supervisor of sexual harassment and was suspended for more than a month, then re-assigned to more physically-challenging duties.

For further information about law-related issues, contact an Illinois State Bar Association member-lawyer in your area or visit

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