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JMF Law > Sexual Harassment Definition

Definition of Sexual Harassment

You start a new job and you really like it but something is making you uncomfortable. It’s one of your new co-workers. You’re all for office camaraderie and some good natured kidding around but this is going too far. Your question is how far is too far? And what is sexual harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website, sexual harassment is

“unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

The Illinois Human Rights Act describes sexual harassment in greater detail:

 “Sexual harassment” means any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. 775 ILCS 5/2-101(E).

Sexual Harassment Examples

What is considered sexual harassment?

  1. Sexually charged comments, sexual innuendos, sexual jokes, comments about your physical appearance or specific body parts, professions of feelings, and being asked out on a date can all constitute sexual harassment. Of course, you have to show that such comments and behavior was unwanted and that you were not a willing participant. 
  2. Unwanted physical contact such as touching, groping, hugging, grazing up against. Again, it is important to show that this type of physical contact was unwanted and made you uncomfortable. The Courts recognize that not all physical contact constitutes sexual harassment. Understand that a coworker greeting you with a quick and innocent hug or getting a pat on the back for doing a good job are probably not going to rise to the level of sexual harassment. 
  3. Making any part of your job (such as wages, promotions, references or working conditions), any part of your housing (such as your rent, your security deposit or lease renewal), or any part of your educational performance (such as grades, honors, course work, or scholarships) contingent on submission to the sexual behavior.

The above examples constitute quid pro quo instances of harassment. This is the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” type of suggestions (or demands). There is nothing acceptable about this type of behavior, nothing.

  1. Sexual harassment can include the display of sexually suggestive objects, signs, magazines, or pictures, or the sending of sexually suggestive emails or text messages to persons who do not want this attention.

Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual harassment is prohibited by both state and federal laws. On the federal level, sexual harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Illinois, sexual harassment is prohibited under the Illinois Human Rights Act. Recently, Illinois has made efforts to expand its laws on sexual harassment:

Governor Pritzker signed SB0075 (“Illinois Sexual Harassment Act”) on August 19, 2019. It goes into effect January 1, 2020.

Some of its provisions include:

The omnibus bill, which was sent to the governor in June, makes several changes effective Jan 1, 2020:

Limits the use of contract provisions designed to keep employees from reporting harassment, including non-disclosure agreements, arbitration and non-disparagement clauses for cases involving harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

Extends legal harassment protections to contract workers and consultants, who do not currently have them. The law now says employers are responsible “for harassment of nonemployees by the employer’s nonmanagerial and nonsupervisory employees only if the employer becomes aware of the conduct and fails to take reasonable corrective measures.”

Allows gender-related violence victims to take unpaid leave to seek medical or legal help or other assistance.

Keeps unions from representing both the victim and alleged harasser in disciplinary proceedings regarding sexual harassment.

Requires the state’s Department of Human Rights to make a sexual harassment training program available for employers, with a separate program specifically for restaurants and bars. Employers will be required to provide sexual harassment training at least once a year.

Prohibits employers from disclosing the name of a victim of an act of alleged sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination in any disclosures.

The bill also has special provisions for hotels and casinos, extending a Chicago ordinance that requires panic buttons be provided for those who work in isolated spaces that they can push in case of harassment or assault. Those mandates are effective July 1, 2020.

You have rights. This is not acceptable. If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment in your workplace please fill out the simple form provided below to schedule a consultation with Attorney Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. to discuss your options.

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JMF Law does not necessarily handle the cases noted. All content is for information purposes, and not legal advice.