Episode 119: "What if I experience sexual harassment in the workplace from a boss?"Support the show
On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about what to do if they experience sexual harassment at work.
This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What if I experience sexual harassment in the workplace from a boss?”
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are never okay. In fact, there are protections for teens and adults in the workplace when it comes to sexual misconduct. So today, we’ll talk about some of those protections and what you can do if you or a friend experience this.
Sexual violence is not about love, how attractive someone is or what they wore. It’s about using power and control over someone else. Also, anyone can experience sexual violence, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. It’s important to remember that the person who causes harm can be of the same or different gender of the target of abuse. Sexual violence of all kinds is never the target’s fault. It is ONLY the fault of the person doing these actions. People always have a choice of their behavior.
So first, let’s define sexual harassment. It’s a form of bullying with a sexual focus. It’s all done without consent or permission, and it’s when one person exercises that power and control over another person. They are trying to take away the other person’s ability to make choices, set boundaries and enforce them, and give or take away consent.
Here are some examples of sexual harassment: unwanted sexual comments or gestures, including requests or pressure for sexual favors; showing someone unwanted sexually explicit photos or videos or taking those without consent; sexual threats; spreading photos, rumors, or jokes, or sending sexual messages; touching, grabbing, or pinching; asking someone out over and over after they’ve said “no;” pulling someone’s clothes in a purposefully sexual way; and jokes or comments about someone’s gender or sexuality.
Here are a couple of examples of sexual harassment that might happen at work, too. If a customer flirts with you and you don’t flirt back or tell them to stop, the customer says, “The customer is always right.” If someone withholds your pay or changes your work schedule as a punishment for not returning their affection, that’s sexual harassment. Here’s another example: receiving inappropriate texts from bosses that are sexual or suggestive.
Sexual assault is slightly different – it’s an unwanted sexual action. This includes rape or attempted rape, or penetration of the victim’s body; unwanted touching, grabbing or pinching; and forcing someone to perform sexual acts.
If someone experiences sexual violence at work from anyone, they might be afraid for a lot of reasons. What if they lose their job? What if they’re ashamed, or worried about what other staff or family members or friends might think about them? If their boss is the perpetrator like this question, it can be even more intimidating. These feelings are common, and you aren’t alone.
United States law says that most job applicants and workers cannot be discriminated against, on the basis of sex. This protects against sexual harassment and sexual assault. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website, harassment is illegal “when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment” or when the result is that the employee is fired, forced to change positions, or looked over for promotions. The law also protects people from experiencing retaliation, or punishment, from an employer if they report harassment.
Also, in New Jersey, there are protections for minors, or teens under 18, who experience sexual assault from a boss or someone who supervises or looks after them. Minors can’t consent to sexual activity with someone in a caregiving or supervisory position, like a team leader or boss. The boss can be charged with statutory rape, even if the activity was done with consent.
If you are over 18 and experience sexual assault, there are also legal protections to support you.
If you do experience sexual violence at work, whether from a fellow staff member, boss, or person visiting your business, here are some things you can do.
1. If you feel safe to do so, tell the person to stop.
2. You can document what happened. Write down the who, what, where, and when. Try to find a safe place to go.
3. You can report the behavior. If you have the employee guidelines or a handbook, check there first to see how your work has outlined handling reports. If there’s a human resources person at your work, you can talk to them privately. This person can guide you through the other actions. You can also talk directly to your boss or supervisor, unless they are the person who has done the behavior.
If this is the case, try going to the next person above your boss. You might also choose to report to law enforcement or your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office, especially if your workplace doesn’t respond to your report. You can go to the website www.eeoc.gov/youth to see your rights and responsibilities in the workplace, work protections, and how and when to file a complaint. Call 911 if you are in danger or if there’s an emergency.
4. You can call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset helpline for supportive listening and information, including free counseling and legal advocacy. You are not alone.
To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.