A hostile work environment is one where the actions and behaviors of one or more individuals make it difficult or uncomfortable for others. When sexual harassment or behaviors are thrown into the mix, you'll find yourself in a sexually hostile environment. Here are the signs of such an environment, and what you can do about it.
Outright Discrimination or Harassment Based on Sex or Gender
It's illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sex. Sex or gender discrimination isn't the same as sexual harassment, but the two can cross over. Sexual harassment represents unwanted requests, comments, and physical conduct of a sexual nature.
These things can create a sexually hostile environment on their own. If your reaction to these unwanted advances causes you to lose a job, miss an opportunity, or affects your employment in any way, then it's sex discrimination.
Pervasive and Consistent Behaviors
One or two instances of lowbrow behaviors aren't always enough to constitute a sexually hostile environment. When the behaviors happen consistently, or are widespread, then it changes the entirety of the atmosphere you work in. There's a large degree of difference between something that annoys or upsets you for a day, and feeling outright anxiety each time you step onto the premises.
What You Can Do to Combat a Sexually Hostile Environment
If it's an individual or two, you have every right to speak up. Feel free to ask the offending party to stop their behavior. If there's a level of intimidation involved, or you just would rather not approach the individual(s) then you can report your concerns.
Report anything that makes you uncomfortable to your HR department. You can also report to your superior. If they're a part of or the cause of the sexually hostile environment, then go to their superior. You should have a reasonable expectation your HR department or superiors will investigate and address your concerns.
It's important you use the channels established at your workplace for dealing with concerns of harassment or discrimination. Often, legal action can flounder if there's no evidence you brought the matter to the attention of your HR department or other workplace authority.
If nothing comes of your complaints, you can start legal actions. Sexual harassment and discrimination have both state and federal statutes to protect you. You should contact
- the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;
- your state agency that handles discrimination cases;
- and a sexual harassment attorney.
An attorney like Davis George Mook can become especially important at this point. The attorney can help you prove you were in a pervasive sexually hostile environment. This can lead to you receiving a settlement for opportunities you missed due to your negative workplace atmosphere.