If a colleague or supervisor has sexually harassed you, going to work may feel unbearable. You may want to speak up but feel afraid to do so because of the potential for retaliation. Yet, it’s important you know how, especially if their behavior does not stop.

What qualifies as sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to a variety of behaviors that can create a hostile work environment or power imbalance. While some forms of harassment are blatant, others are more discreet and may seem harmless at first. Common types of sexual harassment include:

  • Lewd comments
  • Unwanted physical touch
  • Requests for dates by a supervisor or colleague
  • The sharing of sexual images, messages or videos among colleagues
  • Suggestive gestures
  • Unwanted compliments regarding physical appearance

Sexual harassment can happen in consensual workplace relationships, too. This is especially true if you’ve ended a relationship with your supervisor. They may have demoted you, changed your duties or gave you a poor performance review in its aftermath. If they do so, their behavior qualifies as retaliation, which is illegal.

One other form of sexual harassment is quid pro quo, which constitutes an exchange of sexual favors for workplace incentives. If your supervisor propositions you with the promise of a raise or a threat of termination, their actions will likely count as such. And their behavior remains harassment even if you give in to them.

What can you do?

Because sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination, it’s crucial to speak up against it. Before anything else, you must tell your harasser that their behavior is making you uncomfortable. While your complaint could change their actions, they could also continue harassing you. In this case, you will want to follow your employer’s reporting guidelines. You will need to report the harassment to your supervisor if your employer has none.

Yet, the person you need to report the harassment to may be your harasser. If this is the case, you may need to contact their supervisor or your employer’s management team regarding their actions. Some employers do not take sexual harassment seriously, though. If yours does not, you will want to file a complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency will then attempt to negotiate with your employer. If the agency cannot settle with your employer, they will give you a right to sue them.

No one deserves to experience sexual harassment at the workplace – or anywhere. If a harasser is making you unable to do your job, an employment law attorney can help you stand up for yourself.