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Understanding the severity of sexual harassment and protections

Despite having federal protections in the United States under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is still a serious issue in many workplace environments in the U.S. There were over 12,000 sexual harassment charges filed in 2010, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. And due to intimidation or fear of losing one's job, there are likely thousands more that go unreported.

With employment structures often involving employees at various levels of superiority, it isn't hard to see how employees on a higher level of power could try to coerce, manipulate or threaten a lower-level employee with unwanted sexual advances. It is important to understand that sexual harassment is not limited to sexual advances between two employers. It may also involve offensive behavior, spoken innuendoes, jokes - anything that creates a hostile work environment for a person.

Furthermore, sexual harassment extends beyond fellow employees, and may involve any contractor, delivery-person, sales associate or a non-employee a victim has contact with during the course of work. In addition, one does not even need to be the target of harassment to make a claim. Again, anyone who is uncomfortable and feels he or she is in a hostile work environment is a victim of sexual harassment.

If you believe you may be a victim of sexual harassment, there are a few steps you should take. First, talk to the harasser. He or she may not be aware that the actions are objectionable, and simply informing the person may resolve the issue.

If it continues, you should speak with your immediate supervisor and your Human Resources Department regarding the incident or incidents. You should also consider filing your claim with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. It also may be in your best interests to seek advice and guidance from a local law firm familiar with sexual harassment and employment law cases.

Source: "Sexual Harassment: What is it?," Accessed on Aug. 1, 2015

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