You start a new job and everything is going great. Your coworkers are welcoming and your boss is particularly friendly. It may seem innocent at first. A compliment about your appearance, a comment about what you’re wearing, a pet name. But the frequency starts to make you uncomfortable. Your boss starts asking about your love life and sexual preferences. Soon the anxiety from dealing with constant unwanted attention makes you dread going to work and you wonder if there is anything you can do.
In Minnesota, you have a right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment, which includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is male or female, or is your boss, coworker, subordinate, or president of the company; this type of behavior is illegal under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if it substantially interferes with your work environment.
What should you do if you are being sexually harassed? The first step is informal – if you can, ask the perpetrator to stop. If that isn’t practical or doesn’t work, then the next usual step is to use internal work channels to report what has happened. Most companies have policies for reporting harassment. If the company is small and does not have a policy, you can make a written complaint to the company’s human resources or some person in a managerial/executive role. This complaint should include the identity of the harasser, as much detail as possible about the harassment and a request that the harassment be stopped. Email is a great way to submit your complaint because you retain a copy in your sent folder for future use if necessary. It also makes sense to keep copies of these communications in a place other than work.
The important thing is to give your employer a chance to fix the problem.
Complaining about sexual harassment can be a scary and intimidating process. You may be asking yourself, what if nothing changes? or what if I’m punished for reporting Companies have an obligation to investigate all claims of sexual harassment and take effective remedial action if it finds a claim to be true. Also, it is illegal for a company to take any negative action towards you for making a complaint. Sometimes companies do the right thing and the harassment will stop. Sometimes they don’t. At that point, if not earlier, it would be wise to consult with an employment law attorney who can help you navigate the process.
This isn’t Mad Men. Sexual harassment is no longer accepted as “just the way things are” and the law does not tolerate this form of discrimination. Knowing your rights can help you stop harassment before it escalates and help you keep your workplace professional.
Halunen Law represents employees who have been harmed by sexual harassment and other illegal conduct.