Our societal norms dictate which behaviors are acceptable at home and at work. The norms evolve as society changes to reflect current social situations and expectations. What was acceptable behavior at work 50 years ago, in many cases, is not acceptable in 2021. In the twenty-first century, workers can rightfully expect equality and dignity at work.
Employers now have a responsibility to provide an environment that is free of physical, verbal, or visual harassment by a coworker. When behavior is sexually or gender motivated, it is harassment. Generally, whenever someone’s behavior makes your workplace feel uncomfortable or hostile, it is harassment.
Your employer may provide information about your employment rights. Regardless of whether they do, you can do independent research to better understand your rights and your options.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Two types of sexual harassment are recognized in North Dakota: quid pro quo and a hostile environment.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo means “something for something” in a business transaction. When a harasser’s behavior implicitly or subtly suggests that submission to or rejection of it will be the basis of employment decisions, it is quid pro quo harassment. Often this type of harassment occurs in leadership positions and is directed at subordinates. For example, this would be sexual harassment: a supervisor saying, “if you have sex with me, I will give you a wage increase.”
When a colleague’s unwelcome sexual behavior interferes with your ability to perform your job or when it creates an intimidating or hostile environment, it is harassment. For example, this would be sexual harassment: your coworker in Bluegrass makes sexual comments about women’s bodies (including yours) in the lunchroom every time you have to work in that regional office.
Laws to Protect Workers
At the state level, the North Dakota Human Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination that is based on gender (“sex”), including discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.
At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination, which includes sexual harassment. Federal law protects workers from discrimination that is based on sexual orientation.
What To Do If You Have Been Harassed
- Tell your harasser that you do not welcome the behavior and want it immediately stopped.
- If the harassment continues, write down every detail you can remember about the incident(s), including dates and witnesses.
- Tell your manager. If the harasser is your manager, tell someone else with authority at your workplace.
- File a sexual-harassment report with your workplace. Use your notes to provide details.
- If your employer has not rectified the situation, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Human Rights. You must file within 300 days of the last harassment.
If you have followed the state’s steps for resolving sexual harassment at work but the situation has not been resolved, you may need to consider getting legal advice about your options.