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What does one need to prove sexual harassment?

We expect our workplace to productive and safe. However, sometimes it becomes a hostile environment. The law does not protect against gross incivility, or what I will call "general harassment." The harassment has to be based on your rights under local and federal laws. The most commonly known form of harassment is sexual harassment, but also illegal are racial harassment, sexual orientation harassment, etcetera. You may report the issue to your employer but rarely does the employer do much, though this has changed in the wake of the #metoo movement.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains sexual harassment, and how one might handle the situation on one's own. Under federal law, the harassment must be pervasive or severe. Under the New York City Law, as well as New Jersey it need not be severe, but your damages might be limited if it doesn't rise to a level of changing the workplace. The law of the State of New York or Connecticut is similar to federal law.

For your case to be considered a valid sexual harassment claim, it must be ongoing and create a work environment that is so uncomfortable that you do not feel as if you are safe or would consider quitting. If it is a supervisor you have a claim; if it is a co-worker, you must in almost every circumstance complaint. If your boss demands that you trade sexual favors for any benefit in the workplace, that is another kind of sexual harassment called "quid pro quo" (Latin, meaning "this for that"). Quid pro quo sexual harassment is always illegal, though a consensual relationship is not.

In proving your case, testimony is considered evidence, but the more detailed the testimony the better. Phone records are evidence. You might also have text messages and emails - save those, for certain. Take a screenshot and print them out. If you have third parties who witnessed the harassment all the better. Once case I settled turned on a single written note wherein the female supervisor wrote to my male client, "I know you want a piece of my A_ _."

If they are still working at the company, co-workers might be afraid to testify on your behalf, but they are protected under the law from retaliation, but things of this nature are always fraught with tension. Your co-workers might be afraid of losing their jobs, so to depend on them is dicey, but I have seen current co-workers take the stand and testify loudly and clearly in favor of my client. On the other hand, once I saw a former employee with so little to say testify for the employer. We won anyway.    

There may be some situations that leave you feeling uncomfortable but that do not qualify as sexual harassment. Typically, these are one-time situations, such as the sharing of an offensive joke or teasing that happens only once and is not ongoing. In those situations, you do not have much recourse under the law to take steps to punish the behavior except reporting it to your employer.

The person harassing you does not have to be a person in a position of authority. Co-workers ca be guilty. Anyone can sexual harass someone else. Just keep in mind that it is important to show this is something that happens often and is creating a work environment in which you do not feel comfortable. This information is for education and is not legal advice.

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