Sexual harassment is considered to be discrimination by both Rhode Island and the federal government. It is defined as unwelcome, gender-based conduct at a workplace. The behavior might be sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual or gender-focused nature. Sexual harassment can occur to both women and men, and a harasser can be either a woman or a man. Laws at both state and federal levels require employers to take sexual harassment seriously and to protect their employees.

Sexual Harassment Is Not Uncommon

Victims of workplace sexual harassment may feel threatened or simply embarrassed by the unwanted attention of a harasser. Often victims do not report harassment because they do not want to be a trouble-maker or to risk their job security. However, studies show that as many as 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men have been sexually harassed at work.

As an employee, you have a right to expect equal treatment at work, regardless of whether you work in Adamsville for a small company or in Providence at a large one. You also have a responsibility to understand your rights. Plenty of resources are available online that explain your rights, and specialists in employment law can help you decipher them. 

Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act

In Rhode Island, the Fair Employment Practices Act makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or a job applicant based on gender (“sex”), gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. The law applies to all employers, including labor organizations and employment agencies, and it includes coworkers, management, customers, and anyone else who sexually harasses on a work site. Further, employers that have 50 or more employees are required to write a corporate policy against sexual harassment and to create a procedure for investigating and resolving it (Section 28-51-2 of the General Laws of Rhode Island). 

The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights is responsible for investigating state complaints of workplace sexual harassment.

Federal Protections

Title VII of the Federal Human Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that makes employment discrimination illegal, specifically when the discrimination is based on gender (“sex”), race, color of skin, religion, or nationality, at workplaces with 15 or more employees. Title IV makes workplace equality a right for workers in every state.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for investigating federal complaints of sexual harassment. It describes sexual harassment similarly as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” 

Legal Support

If you have been sexually harassed at work, you have options for resolving the situation. If you need legal support, an employment lawyer can guide you through the complaint process.

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