Despite increased attention and accountability in recent years, workplace sexual harassment remains a pervasive and often underreported problem. In particular, in the medical field, a new study reveals that nearly two-thirds of medical interns have experienced sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is illegal under both federal and state law, but those laws aren’t self-executing. You need to take proactive steps to protect your legal rights. If you have been sexually harassed at work, give us a call or contract us online for a free, confidential case evaluation. We can help.
What the study found about sexual harassment at work
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor reviewed data from over 2,000 interns from 28 U.S. medical institutions between June 2016 and June 2017. The data showed that overall, 64.7 percent of interns said they experienced sexual harassment.
There was a significant gender disparity in the results, as over three-quarters of women (77.2 percent) reported sexual harassment at work, compared to 50.9 percent of male interns. There was also significant variance across institutions and across training specialties. However, across the board, the study authors found that sexual harassment in the field was unacceptably high.
What is the legal definition of workplace sexual harassment?
Unlawful sexual harassment is behavior of a sexual nature that is severe enough to interfere with an employee’s ability to do their job. Examples include touching, sexual jokes, being shown sexualized imagery, and unwelcome sexual advances. Simple teasing and minor isolated incidents are typically not enough to violate the law (although they may still violate an employer’s policies). There are two categories of legally actionable sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo, or “this for that,” involves a request for sexual favors in exchange for a job benefit (promotion, raise, etc.), or a threat of a job detriment (demotion, firing) if the employee doesn’t comply. The harasser must be someone with the power to follow through on the threat (like a manager or supervisor). Because of the power dynamics involved, a single incident is enough to sustain a quid pro quo claim.
- Hostile work environment, which means the harassment is so frequent or severe that it interferes with the employee’s ability to do their job. The key is the pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident. The victim need not be the direct target of the sexual behavior; merely being exposed to an overly sexualized environment at work can be enough to sustain a harassment claim.
Note that the definition of sexual harassment is gender-neutral: both the harasser and the victim can be of any gender. Sexual harassment can also occur across any level of the organizational hierarchy.
What to do if you believe you have been sexually harassed at work
There are a few steps you need to follow if you are a victim of sexual harassment. First, document everything. Remember, most sexual harassment claims are based on a pattern of behavior, so you need to be able to prove the pattern. Write down what happened as soon as possible, and make sure you have names and contact information for witnesses.
Second, report the harassment to your employer. This puts them “on notice” that harassment is happening under their watch, so they can’t claim ignorance later. Remember, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment in good faith.
If your employer doesn’t put a stop to the harassment, you can file a claim with the appropriate federal or state agency (such as the EEOC or the Ohio Civil Rights Commission). After going through the agency process, you may be eligible to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
You also need to talk to an attorney. We can listen to your story, explain your legal rights and options, and guide you through the process. Talking to a lawyer isn’t a commitment to file a sexual harassment claim; it’s an opportunity to be heard and get actionable legal advice. Contact Nilges Draher LLC today for a free, confidential case evaluation. We can help.