When Is It Sexual Harassment?

Posted by Randy Andrus | Jan 04, 2022

Imagine being in an environment where you fully expect to be safe – free of any form of harassment or discrimination. Whether it's your place of work, a church, at school, a doctor's office, on the internet, or somewhere else, you expect others to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully. When the opposite behavior ensues, you may find yourself questioning whether it's really happening. You may consider if perhaps you're “overreacting” or misunderstanding. Unfortunately, this is one of the many side effects of sexual harassment and assault. You deserve to trust yourself if your gut is telling you something is wrong. In this article, we'll outline what sexual harassment is and what behaviors may signify it. 

If you are in a situation where you feel violated and are questioning yourself, we're here to help you. Please call 801-400-9860 if you have any questions or want to set up a confidential initial consultation with our discrimination lawyer in Utah

How Is Sexual Harassment Defined in Utah?

Sexual harassment is typically considered employee discrimination based on sex, which is prohibited by the Utah Antidiscrimination Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Utah Code § 34A-5-106. As described by the state Labor Commission, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other communicated or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to the behavior is made a term or condition (either explicitly or implicitly) of a person's employment or involvement in an activity
  • Submission to or rejection of the behavior serves as the basis for any employment decision impacting the person
  • The conduct is intended or has the effect of unreasonably interfering with a person's employment or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

What Behaviors Qualify As Sexual Harassment?

Sometimes an individual's behavior is so overt and lewd that the fact it's sexual harassment is glaring. However, sometimes, a person's inexcusable, discriminatory behavior is purposefully minimized to evoke questions in the recipients. Unfortunately, this creates more problems for those experiencing harassment. If a sexual advance is unwanted and unwelcomed, it's sexual harassment. If someone is requesting sexual favors from you, especially in exchange for something else (a promotion, raise, etc), it is sexual harassment. If someone is directing verbal or physical sexual conduct at you, it's sexual harassment. For an action to be considered discrimination based on sex, it does not have to be bordering sexual assault or a clearly expressed email containing sexual or lewd comments or requests. Sexual harassment can be far less blatant with behaviors including sexually based suggestions or constant touching. Some actions that can be considered sexual harassment include: 

  • Repetitive compliments on appearance
  • Comments regarding the attractiveness of others 
  • Discussion of sexual affairs
  • Questions about one's sex life   
  • Passing nude or sexually revealing photos around
  • Sexually suggestive emails or texts
  • Unwanted gifts of an intimate nature
  • Incessant unwanted touching, such as hugs
  • Spreading or sharing sexual rumors about someone
  • Lewd jokes of comments
  • Sexual assault or sexual abuse

Note that if a behavior makes someone feel uncomfortable, intimidated, unsafe, or happens frequently enough, it may be considered sexual harassment. If you feel something is not right, don't continue to question yourself. Contact a knowledgeable and trusted discrimination lawyer who can help you validate your beliefs and take appropriate action. 

Sexual Harassment Next Steps

Don't think there is nothing you can do if you are being discriminated against in the workplace or elsewhere. Protections exist within the law and there are procedures and organizations that uphold those laws. You have options, and a workplace sexual harassment lawyer can help you create an action plan. To protect yourself as thoroughly as possible during the process, speak to an attorney before taking action. Employer retaliation for speaking out and reporting inappropriate conduct is illegal, and a lawyer will help protect you from any attempts of employer retaliation against you. The formal steps to holding the responsible party liable are:

  1. Report the incident(s) -  This is the first step to a resolution. If the person responsible for making you feel uncomfortable or negatively impacting the workplace isn't aware that their actions are offensive, it will raise the alarm for them and others to prevent the same type of behavior. If others are being sexually harassed or discriminated against, this first step should ensure that the conduct stops. 
  2. Follow Your Employer's Protocol - Many workplaces have systems in place when it comes to reporting sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. A lawyer will help you follow the procedure, organize and outline your talking points to successfully recount the instance(s), and stay vigilant if any subsequent retaliation happens
  3. Report the incident(s) to appropriate agencies - If you cannot submit a harassment claim to your employer, or if you'd like to take the matter further, you may file an administrative charge with state or federal agencies. Your lawyer will help you determine the best agency to file your charge. 
  4. File a lawsuit - The appropriate agency will issue a “right to sue” letter, depending on the facts of your case. This letter gives you permission to file a civil lawsuit to collect damages that you incurred due to the sexual harassment or other form of discrimination you endured. Some damages that may be available include back pay, reinstatement in the case you lost your job, damages for emotional and psychological distress, a demand that your employer enacts a policy and required training to stop discrimination, your discrimination lawyer fees and court fees. 

Stop Questioning Yourself – Call a Lawyer

If you are being sexually harassed or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace, know there is help out there and there are legal actions you can take to stop the behavior. If you feel something is not right in your gut, don't continue to question yourself. Listen to your gut, and call a lawyer to discuss the facts of your case. Our attorney will help you determine the actions that the specific behavior warrants and help you throughout the entire process. 

Randy Andrus and the Andrus Law Firm team are experienced and trusted experts when it comes to workplace discrimination. With almost four decades of experience, our discrimination attorney is ready to fight for you. You don't have to do this alone. Call us at 801-400-9860, or fill out our confidential online form, and we will reach out to you to schedule an initial consultation.  

About the Author

Randy Andrus

BIO   Education University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law (LL.M. 1987) Business and Taxation – Transnational Practice Courses and International Bar Association Convention, Salzburg, Austria Southwestern University School of Law (J.D. 1984) Dean's List American Jurisprudence...

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