Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Harassment

Can my employer reassign, demote, or fire me if I complain about sexual harassment?

No. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report unlawful employment practices, such as sexual harassment, or filing a legal claim for workplace discrimination arising from sexual harassment.

You also cannot be retaliated against simply because you were a witness in a co-worker’s sexual harassment claim. You cannot be reassigned or transferred from your current role or responsibilities, as a means of “curing” the hostile work environment you are experiencing due to sexual harassment, unless you request a reassignment or transfer.

Can women commit sexual harassment against men?

Yes. Just as men can commit sexual harassment against women, women can commit sexual harassment against men. Men can also commit sexual harassment against men, and women can commit sexual harassment against women. Sexual harassment arises from any verbal or physical act that discriminates against a person on the basis of his or her sex.

Am I committing sexual harassment if I ask a fellow employee out on a date?

Maybe. Some employers have policies that prohibit dating or romantic fraternization between employees while on the job. If you violate this policy by asking your co-worker out on a date, your employer may consider it an incident of sexual harassment.

However, if your employer has no such policy against dating in the workplace, making one single request for a date to a co-worker likely will not be considered to be sexual harassment. But, if your request is declined or the co-worker has let you know that he or she is not interested in a relationship with you, further requests for a date or indications of romantic interest may constitute sexual harassment.

If I dated a co-worker and we broke up, can he or she commit sexual harassment against me?

Sexual harassment arises from any unwanted verbal or physical conduct committed against you on the basis of your sex. If you and your co-worker have broken up and you have made it clear to him or her that you have no further romantic interest in him or her, any continuing sexual attention that is unwanted by you could constitute a basis for sexual harassment.

If you have made it clear to your ex that any further sexual attention or interest is unwelcome, your prior relationship cannot serve as a defense against a claim of sexual harassment.

Are comments about my clothes or appearance sexual harassment?

Potentially. It is not sexual harassment if an employee is instructed to adhere to the company’s established dress code or to dress more professionally. Conversely, instructions to wear more revealing clothing for the gratification of co-workers, supervisors, or customers may constitute sexual harassment.

Furthermore, although an innocent compliment about your clothes or appearance may not be sexual harassment, such comments can rise to the level of harassment if they are accompanied by comments of a sexual nature. Comments about clothes or appearance can constitute sexual harassment if they are made on the basis of an employee’s sex and create an abusive or hostile work environment.

If I tell a joke of a sexual nature to someone who finds it funny, is that sexual harassment?

Although a single joke may not be harassment, it can contribute to creating a hostile environment. Even though the person you intended to tell the joke to may not have found the joke offensive or found the joke funny, it is enough that another “reasonable person” may have found the joke offensive.

Remember that others may have overheard you telling the joke and may have found it offensive; this can still create a hostile work environment even if the joke was not about them or directed to their attention.

Can my employer’s customers commit sexual harassment?

Unwanted sexual comments or conduct committed by employees can give rise to a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment. If you experience unwanted sexual behavior from a customer, you should report it to your employer.

If your employer fails to take actions to remedy the situation, such as reminding the customer of acceptable behavior in your place of business or removing the customer from the place of business, then your employer’s knowledge of and failure to address a customer’s unwanted sexual behavior can give rise to a claim of sexual harassment.

If I was sexually harassed, should I contact the police?

Sexual harassment can rise to the level of a crime depending on the conduct involved. If the conduct involves unwanted physical touching, it may constitute battery. Sexual comments that place you in fear of physical harm may constitute assault. Repeated indications of sexual interest, after you have made it clear that you do not share that interest, can constitute criminal harassment or stalking.

Finally, a physical attack of a sexual nature can constitute sexual assault. If you fear for your safety or if your bodily integrity has been violated in some way, you can report it to the police who can determine if a crime has occurred and take appropriate action.

If I believe I am being subjected to sexual harassment, do I need an attorney?

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, having legal representation can help facilitate a quicker resolution of the harassment you are experiencing. An attorney can help you communicate with your employer to try and remedy the situation, such as by disciplining, retraining, or terminating those responsible for the harassment.

An attorney can also help protect your rights if you report sexual harassment to your employer, especially if your employer responds in a way that may constitute retaliation, such as transferring or reassigning you, demoting you, reducing your job responsibilities, reducing your pay, or terminating you.

If your employer is unable or unwilling to remedy the harassment you experience in your workplace, an attorney can help you file and pursue a sexual harassment claim by first filing a complaint with a civil rights agency like the Iowa Civil Rights Commission or the EEOC.

Contact a Des Moines Sexual Harassment Lawyer

The Des Moines sexual harassment lawyers of Higgins Law Firm, PLLC are ready to help you take a stand if you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Every employee deserves to feel valued and respected, and when your rights are violated, we’ll be ready to fight for you. Call us at (515) 619-9148 to schedule a 100% confidential consultation to find out your legal options.