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Ending Office Harassment

October 17, 2017

Yet another story of sexual harassment has made headlines. In July of last year, it was Roger Ailes of Fox News; then this April, it was fellow Fox News colleague Bill O’Reilly. Now, the media attention is focused on Hollywood hit-maker Harvey Weinstein. Major Hollywood stars including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina JolieAshley Judd, and Rose McGowan have come forward with their accounts of abuse at the hands of Weinstein. It’s a sobering reminder that sexual harassment affects women everywhere—from a journalist’s desk to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood—and we as a society have to do better at weeding out these serial abusers.

To truly achieve equality in the workplace we must tackle sexual harassment head on. If you or someone you love is experiencing office harassment, there is good and bad news.

The Good News: Federal law protects most women and men from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The law states that any unwelcome behavior that happens to workers because of their sex is a form of sex discrimination and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits such sex discrimination in a work environment.

Sexual harassment includes (but is not limited to):

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Hostile verbal or physical conduct that targets a person based on their gender

The Bad News: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only protects workers in businesses with 15 or more employees.

Over five million American businesses have 19 or less employees, meaning there are potentially millions of workers who are unprotected from sexual harassment by federal law. Fortunately, some states and cities have special laws that protect employees of smaller companies.

If you or someone you love is ready to take action and put a stop to the abuse, check out the tips listed below.

Mindful Resources for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Know that you are not alone. Many of victims of sexual assault and harassment keep their ordeal to themselves because they are afraid of being judged or ignored. Staying silent may seem like an easier option, but it can keep you from healing and your attacker will stay at large. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or coworkers for help. Or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline1-800-656-4673.
  • Know your rights. There are many online resources that can help you learn more about your legal right to workplace protection. One such resource is the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund. They provide answers to some basic questions about Title VII and offer other information about employee rights.
  • Talk to an expert. Looking for more personalized advice? There are different hotlines you can call for assistance such as the Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) hotline. ERA is a civil rights organization that looks out for the interests of women and girls in schools and the workplace. The organization has resources and an Advice & Counseling Hotline that you can call: 800-839-4372 
  • Speak to an attorney. Do you feel like your sexual harassment case might require a lawyer? Talking to an employment lawyer in your state can help you consider your options. If you can’t afford a lawyer, research local legal aid organizations—they typically represent clients with certain income restrictions and they may be able to help you.
  • Take care of yourself. As you contemplate your legal rights, be sure to take care of your physical and mental health. Moving past the trauma doesn’t happen overnight. Talk to a psychiatrist, join a support group, and nurture your body with nutritious food, physical exercise, and plenty of sleep. You have the strength to persevere even in the most difficult of circumstances—all you have to do is tap into it.
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