In this article, we answer the question, “what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace in Illinois?” We also answer the following: “what is sexual harassment?”, “what is the difference between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment?”, “what are some examples of sexual harassment?”, “what if the harasser retaliates against me for reporting sexual harassment?”, and “do I need a lawyer for sexual harassment in the workplace?”
Sexual harassment at the workplace is a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment. To count as “harassment” in the eye of the law, the conduct has to be severeor pervasive; it does not have to be both. The law doesn’t usually prohibit teasing, isolated offhand comments, or not-so-serious, one-time incidents. For example, one sexually suggestive comment would probably not be prosecuted, but rape or attempted rape would definitely meet both “severe” and “pervasive” criteria. Sexual harassment is also “in the eye of the beholder,” meaning it doesn’t matter if the harasser thinks the behavior is acceptable or not. It only matters what a reasonable person would find to humiliate, offend or intimidate another person.
There are two general categories of sexual harassment:
1.) Quid Pro Quo: This type of sexual harassment occurs when an employment decision is related to your submission to sexual harassment, like a manager offering a promotion in exchange for a date or threatening to fire an employee if he or she does not give in to the request.
2.) Hostile Work Environment: This type of sexual harassment occurs when behavior in the workplace is intimidating, hostile, or offensive and unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.
Sexual harassment is usually verbal and nonverbal, rather than written, physical, or visual. Any unwelcome sexually suggestive behavior, demands for sexual favors, or other verbal and physical actions qualify as sexual harassment. The behavior doesn’t always have to be of a sexual nature. For example, sexual harassment can be offensive remarks regarding a person’s sex or gender.
Here are some examples of sexual harassment:
· Commenting on a person’s clothing, personal behavior, romantic relationships, or body
· Making sexual or sex-based jokes or innuendoes
· Requesting sexual favors or romantic behavior
· Spreading rumors about a person’s romantic or sexual life
· Threatening a person for rejecting or refusing sexual advances or overtures
· Impeding or blocking someone’s movement
· Inappropriate touching of a person’s body or clothing
· Kissing, hugging, patting, stroking, and any other touching against a person’s will or without consent
· Looking up and down or staring at a person’s body
· Making derogatory gestures or facial expressions of a sexual nature
· Following a person
· Displaying or sharing posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature
· Harsh criticism, verbal abuse, or unreasonable behavior toward someone based on sex
Many victims do not report sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of retaliation. Retaliation is when the harasser or employer punishes a victim for complaining about or reporting sexual harassment. These fears are legitimate, considering sexual harassment usually involves a complicated power dynamic. Employees could lose paychecks, be excluded from career progression, or even face termination. In order to protect employees from these consequences, employers are legally prohibited from retaliating against employees who report sexual harassment. All employees have the right to report harassment, participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit, or oppose harassment, without being retaliated against.
If you’re a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you have the right to legal remedy. These cases can become complex, as your employer probably has an entire legal team. We are an experienced employee rights attorney, and we can help you protect your legal rights. If you report the incident to management and they do not take appropriate steps to investigate and mitigate the situation, contact an attorney. If an attacker physically injured you, you should call the police immediately and contact an attorney as soon as possible to document the evidence you may need later to prove your case.
For more on this, check out our article: What Should I Do If I Have Been Sexually Harassed in the Workplace?