Sexual harassment violates Title VII of the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision or such conduct has the purpose or effect of…creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

Sexual harassment often involves allegations of misconduct, with little or no physical and anecdotal evidence to back up a claim. By working with a licensed employment lawyer, you can expect to receive expert advice on how to handle a sexual harassment lawsuit.  If you believe that you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, contact our experienced employment attorneys for a free initial consultation.

Here are a few common questions we receive regarding sexual harassment in the workplace:

Does Illinois Consider Sexual Harassment to Be an Illegal Act?

Illinois law makes it illegal for anyone to sexually harass another person or commit another act of discrimination. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IHRA”) is one of the laws in Illinois that protects employees against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. According to the Illinois Human Rights Act, it is illegal to request sexual favors and make unwelcome sexual advances. Unlawful conduct occurs when “submission to such conduct is either expressed or suggested, submission or rejection of the conduct by an employees is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting that employee, or such conduct interferes with employee’s job performance or creates and intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

What Does Illinois Law Mean By “Quid Pro Quo” Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment happens whenever a member of management offers a raise, promotion, or another perk of the job in return for dates or sexual favors. For instance, a manager might promise an employee a substantial raise if he or she agrees to go out on a date. Another common example is when a manager threatens to fire an employee for not engaging in a sexual act with him or her.

What Does Illinois Law Mean By “Hostile Environment” Harassment?

Any employee is capable of creating a hostile work environment that encourages sexual harassment. A hostile work environment can include, but is not limited to, one or more employees telling inappropriate jokes or making unwanted physical contact with at least one other co-worker. Other examples of a “hostile work environment” may include posters of an explicitly sexual nature or sexually graphic images presented on a computer screen.

How Does Illinois Address Employer Retaliation in Sexual Harassment cases?

Illinois employment law forbids retaliation for reporting one or more incidents of sexual harassment. Federal laws protect workers that experience sexual harassment as well. Unfortunately, far too many employers retaliate against employees by cutting hours, reducing pay, and in some cases, terminating employees that report incidents of sexual harassment.

Is Sexual Harassment Just about Men Harassing Women?

Illinois law does not distinguish between genders when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. The gender of the harasser has nothing to do with filing a sexual harassment claim.

Does Asking a Co-Worker on a Date Count as Sexual Harassment?

In the State of Illinois, it is not unlawful to ask a professional colleague out on a date. However, if a co-worker rejects an offer of a date and the other co-worker continues to ask him or her out, then a sexual harassment case might be made. Most employers establish guidelines for employee dating, especially for supervisors and managers. Generally, if an employer does have a policy, it is in an employee handbook, which should be readily accessible to all employees.

How Does Illinois Law Address Comments about Clothing and Appearance?

Sometimes, sexual harassment enters murky legal waters, and when it comes to comments about clothes and appearance, the water gets much murkier. When a colleague or a manager gives you a compliment about an outfit or a new hairstyle, the compliment meets the standards established for sexual harassment if the compliment was unwanted and unsolicited, and usually followed by lewd language or any sexually explicit behavior.

How Do I Prove Unwelcome Sexual Harassment?

Saving phone messages, emails, or notes is usually the most effective ways to prove sexual harassment. It is also important to report the unwanted sexual conduct to a manager, supervisor, or Human Resources representative. Generally, if an employer has a policy regarding discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment, the policy will likely outline the proper “chain of command” for reporting. Remember, if you make a written report or complaint, keep a copy for your own records.

You might also be able to prove sexual harassment by submitting evidence that confirms one or more of the following effects:

  • Avoiding the alleged harasser
  • Asking the alleged harasser to stop harassing you
  • Reporting the unwanted sexual harassment to supervisors or a manager
  • Calling an Employee Harassment Hotline
  • Talking to your doctor about any emotional distress you have experienced as a result of the harassment.

What Actions Should I Take to Help Prove my Sexual Harassment Case?

The first thing to do is explain to the other person that you want the inappropriate behavior to stop. Saying no repeatedly, especially in front of witnesses, can help prove your case.

Here are a few additional tips to help you build a convincing sexual harassment case:

  • Document every incident
  • Keep work performance records (evaluations, write-ups, emails, etc)
  • Speak with witnesses and ask them to report the harassment that they saw
  • Discuss the illegal behavior with other victims
  • Understand how the company prefers to handle complaints by talking to a supervisor and/or referring to the company’s employee handbook
  • File a formal complaint with your employer

If your employer does not take swift action to address a charge of sexual harassment, contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) can be the motivating factor that jumps starts a company investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

Never take an act of sexual harassment lightly. If you feel a manager, supervisor or co-worker has sexually harassed you, the key is to be proactive by immediately reporting the conduct and contacting a law firm that has established a record of successfully litigating sexual misconduct in the workplace cases. If you believe that you are a victim of sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace, call us or submit the online Contact form today to schedule a consultation to determine the best course of legal action.