Have you ever been told by your manager to wear skirts at work instead of pants…because they are more attractive? Have you been told by your male director that your first name isn’t professional enough (it’s too sexy) and you should change it? Have you been sent home from work before your shift is up because the supervisor doesn’t like your hair or clothing? These are real-life examples of discrimination against women in workplaces.
In part thanks to the activism of the “Me Too” movement, the state of Maryland has made efforts to curb sexual harassment and has established policies and procedures for reporting harassment in workplaces. It doesn’t matter if you work at a small company in Willards or in Annapolis for the state government—you are meant to be protected. It is worth taking some time to read online resources about your rights at work and about your employer’s responsibilities.
Fair Employment Practices Act
In 2018, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act became a law. It made discrimination against people based on their gender (“sex”), sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status illegal in workplaces. The law applied to all private and public employers in Maryland who had 15 or more employees.
In 2019, the law was amended in these ways:
- The definition of “employee” was broadened to include independent contractors.
- The statute of limitations for filing a complaint of sexual harassment was extended to two years from the date of the harassment. (It was six months.)
- The law was extended to cover employees in companies of all sizes, from one employee to 1000 employees.
- Employers became responsible for complaints of sexual harassment filed against their managers.
- The amount of time employees have to file a private lawsuit was extended to three years (from two).
Federal Title VII Protection
The U.S. government protects citizens against workplace sexual harassment with “Title VII” of the Federal Human Rights Act of 1964. This law makes it illegal on a federal level for employers to discriminate against employees based on their gender (sex), race, skin color, religion, or nationality. This means employers cannot use gender to make decisions about hiring, promotions, firing, job duties, or compensation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for handling federal claims of discrimination. The commission makes it clear that gender-specific and gender-offensive remarks may be considered harassment, that any gender can be a victim or a harasser, and that harassment is not limited to different-gender offenses.
What If You Have Been Harassed?
You might be unsure whether you have been sexually harassed at work. Maybe it was just a joke (or repeated jokes) in bad taste? If someone’s behavior or comments at work have made you uncomfortable, have made the environment feel hostile or offensive, or have affected your ability to do your job, you have probably been harassed. You can reach out for help from professionals who specialize in employment harassment.