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Title VII: A key factor to fighting sexual harassment at work

No matter where you work in New York, certain rules of appropriate behavior apply to all work environments because employment law dictates it. While you may not see eye-to-eye with every colleague or executive, it does not give anyone license to treat you disrespectfully or impede your ability to perform the normal tasks of your workday.  

Working in a hostile atmosphere or facing coworker or employer intimidation causes stress. Some types of wrongful behavior, like sexual harassment, strike a very personal, intimate cord. The emotional trauma that accompanies such violations may carry lasting repercussions that reach far beyond the actual date of a particular incident.

You do not have to put up with sexual harassment in the workplace. Understanding your rights ahead of time and knowing where to seek support can help you resolve such problems when they arise. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. government enacted laws to protect people from wrongful discrimination and ill-treatment in the workplace. Title VII, which is a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pertains specifically to sexual harassment. By gaining a better understanding of these laws, you may be able to determine the best course of action to protect your rights against inappropriate sexual advances in the workplace.

How Title VII defines sexual harassment

Let's say your boss told you that you were up for a potential salary increase. When your boss asked you to stop into the office for a meeting about it, you were excited - that is, until your boss started making off-color comments and unwelcome sexual advances. When you objected, he told you were "part of the deal" to get your pay raise.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 terms this type of sexual harassment as "quid pro quo." It is illegal, and you can take formal action against it. 

Title VII also categorizes actions that create hostile work environment as harassment. This includes anything from offensive comments or jokes to verbal or physical sexual advances by superiors or coworkers. If the behavior singles you out and makes it impossible for you to do your job, it may be grounds for a sexual harassment claim. 

How to file a claim

If there are 15 or more employees where you work, your employer is bound to the terms of Title VII, which is part of federal law. When harassment occurs in companies with less than 15 employees, the matter will be handled under New York state laws governing workplace harassment. In either case, you must show that you consider the behavior in question abusive and hostile. You must also prove that the average worker in a similar situation would find it so.  

One of the first steps to end unwelcome sexual advances at work is to tell the person exhibiting the behavior to stop. Your employee handbook should include specific policies and steps to take to report the incident. If a coworker is sexually harassing you and your employer knows about it but does nothing to keep you safe or rectify the situation, then your employer risks facing serious legal penalties.  

The bottom line is that you don't have to sit back and do nothing because the law is on your side. It provides various ways to bring the matter to the attention of proper authorities and hold those responsible legally and potentially financially accountable for their actions.

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