Boss is harassing business woman while working

What Are the Different Types of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Chris Sanders Law PLLC July 5, 2023

Possibly the most common popular image of sexual harassment in the workplace is that of a boss soliciting sexual favors from an employee in return for some form of benefit at work—perhaps even just continued employment. While this certainly can and does happen, sexual harassment can take many forms in the working world, and it doesn’t always have to involve an employer or supervisor hitting on someone by dangling some form of employment bait. 

If you see a pattern of sexual harassment, or feel the effects of sexual harassment, in your place of employment in or around Louisville, Kentucky, reach out to me at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. We will discuss your situation and how to counter the workplace environment that fosters such behavior.  

I am an attorney who strives to foster better workplace environments and improve overall community conditions for all. In that role, I often find myself helping others to promote and support their causes through strategizing, organizing, coordinating, negotiating, litigating, or even rallying the troops. 

Overview of Sexual Harassment

In 2022, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which fields charges of workplace sexual harassment and investigates, issued a report titled “Sexual Harassment in Our Nation’s Workplaces” Culling through its data from FY 2018 through FY 2021, it found that, among the 7,000 or so sexual harassment complaints filed each year, 78.2 percent of them were by women. This means that roughly 20 percent were filed by men. 

The EEOC also found that nearly half, or 43.5 percent, of the complaints filed were joined by complaints of retaliation. This reflects the disturbing trend that employers or supervisors who fail to get their way in sexual harassment can often retaliate—hold back promotions; worse, administer demotions; possibly take away or deny benefits; or even terminate the employee. 

Of course, there are also other forms of workplace sexual harassment that can be initiated by coworkers and even by third parties who don’t work in the same environment, including clients, customers, vendors, independent contractors, and others. 

Types of Sexual Harassment and Governing Laws

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the major federal initiative to combat both harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and the EEOC is the organization that aelds complaints from workers and then tries to investigate. Sexual harassment falls under the Civil Rights Act. Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 35.679 covers sexual harassment in the Commonwealth, echoing the Civil Rights Act’s definitions and protections. 

There are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace: quid pro quo and hostile work environment: 

  • QUID PRO QUO: This literally means “this for that.” As mentioned above, quid pro quo sexual harassment generally involves someone in power exerting influence over someone else—supervisor over employee, for instance—in return for sexual favors. The person in power may promise favors or make threats (“If you want to that job promotion….”) to receive the “this for that.” The EEOC defines this as occurring when submitting to unwelcome sexual conduct is “made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment." 

  • HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT: A quid pro quo incident could lead to a hostile work environment, as could other actions and even company policies. The EEOC states that, for a hostile work environment to exist, something must be happening that “is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” This could even be one employee who constantly harasses or “hits on” another employee, making it uncomfortable or intimidating for even those employees nearby. 

What Behaviors Rise to the Level of Sexual Harassment?

The EEOC notes that “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents” generally do not rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment. Offensive conduct, on the other hand, must be pervasive and continuous, including offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.  

Responsibility of Employers

Employers must initial policies and procedures to prevent and deal with issues of sexual harassment if they do occur. This means the business must have a set policy prohibiting sexual harassment (or any form of harassment) and also a mechanism for reporting any workplace incident. The employer is obligated to investigate any reported incident and then take appropriate actions to correct the situation. 

What to Do If You Feel You Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work

You should first of all ask the person who is harassing you to stop and make it clear that you won’t tolerate such behavior; it can be helpful to include this in writing. For example, send an email stating what the person said or did and let them know that it will not be tolerated. If this doesn’t work, then you need to report it using your company’s stated policy, which may mean informing your supervisor or the human relations representative. 

If there is no policy or mechanism, or your employer fails to act on your report, then you should file a charge with the EEOC and also seek the guidance of an experienced employment law attorney. Generally speaking, you cannot sue your employer until the EEOC is given a chance to investigate. 

Don’t Stand Alone. Reach Out Now.

If you’ve been victimized by sexual harassment at work wherever you are in Kentucky, there are probably others who have been as well. Statistics show that most victims remain silent and don’t report matters for fear of retaliation. You must not tolerate such behavior. The law is on your side. 

Contact me at Chris Sanders Law PLLC when you see sexual harassment occurring in your workplace. Let’s formulate a plan of action. My goal is to create better workplaces and better communities throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky.