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What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment is an issue that has been much in the news recently, with the high-profile firing of cable news host Bill O'Reilly after his long history of sexual harassment allegations came to light. Somewhat lost in the media coverage of this story is the fact that workers who are subjected to harassment and abuse can suffer long-term consequences.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as unwelcomed or unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal and physical acts of a sexual nature. Far from being just flirting or having fun, sexual harassment is legally a form of sex discrimination and prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There are two different types of sexual harassments claims. The first is known as quid pro quo. These claims involve a supervisor or a person in an authority position requesting sex or a sexual relationship in exchange for some work-related offer. For instance, a supervisor might offer the victim a promotion, in exchange for sexual favors, or might even threaten to fire the employee if he or she does not acquiesce.

The second type of claim is known as a hostile work environment claim. Under federal law, a hostile work environment involves inappropriate behavior or conduct that is so pervasive that it results in an offensive work environment. For instance, a hostile work environment might include pornographic images on the walls of the workplace, or an atmosphere of near-constant inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to understand your rights and options. This will not only stop the conduct from occurring, but it could also help punish the abuser and help the victim collect compensation for damages suffered.

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