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What workplace sexual harassment looks like in 2016?

Isn't sexual harassment a thing of the past? Think again. Thirty percent of the charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014 related to sex discrimination. A good portion of these alleged sexual harassment or retaliatory discharge.

This is as women make up a larger part of the professional workforce -- 53  percent in 2013, according to EEOC statistics. Because one-quarter of women face harassment at their job, although many never report it, the EEOC has made the issue a priority. In 2015, it created an anti-harassment task force to identify strategies to prevent and remedy workplace harassment.

Examples of harassment

A slap on the behind is obvious sexual harassment. Other touches such as a back rub or lingering hug can also be sexual in nature. Other overt examples include:

  • Unwanted jokes or vulgar comments
  • Requests for dates or unwelcome flirting
  • Emails or texts with suggestive pictures (a certain politician comes to mind here)

As with discrimination, more people now recognize that they cannot do many of these things. Harassment has thus become more implicit and subtle. An employment law complaint may be even be challenged as a simple misunderstanding or only a joke, which can trivialize concerns.

More subtle forms take their toll

Social media has tended to make relationships between co-workers and supervisors feel increasingly casual. The line between professional and unprofessional can then start to blur. And more opportunities than ever before exist to cross it.

A co-worker who has no filter may be inappropriate without realizing how uncomfortable it makes others. More people also report receiving lewd texts and emails.

The fields where sexual harassment occurs are varied. Restaurants and retail may be some of the more obvious. By some measures as many as 40 percent of women in the hospitality industry report experiencing some form of sexual harassment while on the job. Other industries that may be more surprising are science and technology and the legal field.

Who is behind the harassment?

It's a myth that a male bosses are most likely to sexually harass subordinates. It is more common that harassment comes from a co-worker, a client or customer. Female coworkers are increasingly the harasser as well.

What to do about it?

As sexual harassment has become less overt, it is important to tell a co-worker, supervisor or customer when conduct or comments makes you uncomfortable. Then you need to ask that it stop. When and if it does not, you need to track and report it through whatever channels your employer has in place.

When unwanted sexual touches are involved, it may be necessary to bring in the police. Allowing someone to get away with seemingly more minor conduct can unfortunately escalate into something more violent.

While you may love your job, sexual harassment can create a hostile workplace. How do you get it to stop without suffering negative consequences? Speak with one of our experienced employment law attorneys to learn about the protections afforded by federal law.

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