Sexual harassment retaliation: what are my rights?

If you are an employee, you may already know that you are protected by state and federal law against sexual harassment. Under the law, employees are protected against both quid pro quo and hostile work environment forms of harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when employment decisions (e.g. work assignments, promotions, etc.) are based upon the employee's willingness to perform sexual favors. Hostile work environments happen when the verbal and non-verbal behavior of someone else at work focuses on sexuality to the point that it is intimidating or interferes with the work performance of a reasonable person. This may include sexual remarks, unwanted physical contact or the display of sexually suggestive materials.

When faced with sexual harassment, most employees know that they should report the behavior. Unfortunately after reporting instances of harassment, the victim sometimes suffers an adverse action or retaliation as a result. If you are in this situation it is important to know your rights under the law.

What is illegal retaliation?

Under the law, retaliation occurs when an employer "takes an adverse action against a covered individual because he or she is engaged in a protected activity." In general, an "adverse action" under the law includes most activities that would stop or discourage an employee from reporting an instance of sexual harassment or from asserting his or her rights under the law. Such actions may include undesirable work assignments, unjustified negative evaluations, demotions (or failure to promote), pay reductions or terminations.

"Covered individuals" under the law include more than the victim of harassment. It may involve any person reporting sexual harassment (who are not necessarily the victim) or those that have asked for accommodations due to the harassment. Also any person that participates in investigations or harassment proceedings is also protected.

Finally, "protected activities" include a multitude of ways that a person may oppose sexual harassment or other unlawful behaviors. Accordingly, illegal retaliation may occur when an adverse action occurs after an employee reports the harassment to a supervisor, participates in a disciplinary proceeding, initiates a sexual harassment complaint or claim, or other similar activities.

Speak with an attorney

If you have suffered sexual harassment while on the job, you may feel embarrassed that it happened or do not want to "make waves" with your employer; it is perfectly natural to feel this way. Nevertheless, you should not let these feeling deter you from taking action against the offensive and illegal behavior.

If you suspect that you have suffered negative treatment after filing a complaint or taking other action to assert your rights, it is important to seek the help of an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney can listen to your situation, explain your options and pursue the remedies available to you under law.