As a Portland worker, you have a right to a safe and healthy working environment and to feel comfortable in your workplace. If you are being sexually harassed at work, you can report it to your employer.
However, you might be in a situation where you are not sure if what is happening to you qualifies as sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can occur in various ways. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that it is illegal to harass a person because of their sex. The definition of sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other physical or verbal harassment with a sexual nature.
“Jokes” can still be sexual harassment
Sexual statements do not need to be directed toward you. Sexually explicit comments are a form of sexual harassment, even if the person commenting claims they are just joking.
The statements or actions do not always have to be sexual to be considered sexual harassment. A common example is making references to one specific gender, such as stating that “all women” act a certain way. That type of comment could be sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can also be more than statements or actions. Someone at work who sends you sexually explicit photos through text, email or another form of electronic communication is potentially committing sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone
You may assume that a man cannot be the victim of sexual harassment, or a woman cannot engage in sexual harassment, but that is not true. Gender is not a factor when determining if sexual harassment is present. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment and the harasser and victim can be of the same or different sex.
You should not be subject to sexual harassment in your workplace by anyone. This includes your boss and co-workers, no matter what position they hold.
You can even be a victim of sexual harassment from someone who does not work for your employer. For example, if you work in the service industry, such as at a restaurant, your employer has a legal duty to make sure you are not sexually harassed by customers.
One isolated incident or a brief comment may not be enough to qualify as sexual harassment. The harassment must be so severe or happen regularly enough that it creates a hostile work environment for you.
Fighting back against sexual harassment
Victims of sexual harassment experience physical, mental and emotional distress. Guilt, shame, powerlessness and anger are just some examples of emotions that sexual assault victims often face.
When the sexual harassment takes place at work, victims often have trouble focusing on doing their job, causing their work performance to suffer. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can develop, while some victims turn to substance abuse or contemplate suicide.
You can protect your right to a safe workplace through filing a sexual harassment claim. There are requirements and deadlines involved with filing a claim, so it is important to act quickly and learn what you must do.