Maintaining a respectful and comfortable environment for everyone is paramount in the professional world. One of the most critical aspects of this is understanding and respecting personal boundaries, particularly regarding physical contact. Inappropriate touching in the workplace is a grave issue that can lead to significant consequences, including legal trouble.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, interferes with their work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment is illegal because it infringes on an individual’s rights to dignity, equality, and freedom in the workplace, as protected by law.
The law considers sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States. This Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. Similar laws and protections are also in place in many countries worldwide.
Unwanted touching in the workplace becomes sexual harassment when it is sexual or when it contributes to a hostile work environment. The line between inappropriate touching and sexual harassment can often seem blurred, but it primarily depends on the context and perception of the person being touched. If the touch is perceived as offensive, demeaning, or sexually suggestive, it could be considered sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment does not just pertain to overtly sexual acts but includes any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. It is important to note that the intention of the person doing the touching does not determine whether it is harassment. The emphasis is on how the person on the receiving end perceives the action.
Examples of Inappropriate Touching
- Unsolicited physical contact: This could include hugging, patting, stroking, or brushing up against someone without explicit consent. Even if these actions are not intended to be sexual, they can still be interpreted as such by the recipient and can contribute to a hostile work environment.
- Sexual gestures or touching: This involves explicit sexual actions such as touching a person’s intimate parts, making obscene gestures, or mimicking sexual acts. These actions are usually overtly sexual and can cause significant distress.
- Forced physical contact: This includes instances where an individual is forced into physical contact, such as being cornered, forcibly kissed, or touched. Such actions are inappropriate and can constitute sexual assault, a serious criminal offense.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Sexually Harassed in the Workplace?
If you have experienced unwanted touching in the workplace, there are several steps you can take. Firstly, communicate clearly that the behavior is unwelcome and ask the person to stop. Document each incident, noting the date, time, location, people involved, and any witnesses.
Next, report the incident to your supervisor, HR, or anyone handling such complaints. Provide them with your documentation of the incidents. If your employer does not take appropriate action, you may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar body in your state.
You can also seek legal counsel to discuss potential civil remedies. In some cases, those sexually harassed may be entitled to damages for emotional distress, lost wages, and more.
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Protect the Rights of Those Who Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work
Sexual harassment at work happens too often, but it may go unnoticed. If you have been the subject of inappropriate workplace touching, speak with our South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC. Call us at 856-235-7075 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.