Sexual harassment is a kind of employment discrimination that is based on a person’s gender (sex). Whether or not you have personally experienced sexual harassment at work, you know it happens. You may even have witnessed it. If you think back to past jobs, did you ever feel uncomfortable with a coworker, manager, or customer’s comments or physical touches? You may have been a victim without realizing it. A few as 30 years ago, it was common to laugh off inappropriate comments or to try to avoid “the creepy, touchy manager.” Laws have been passed or ratified in many states to protect workers from sexual harassment, and federal civil rights laws have been extended to include sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. Many resources are available online to provide legal support.
Virginia Human Rights Act
Since July 1, 2020, the Virginia Human Rights Act has prohibited discrimination or harassment that is based on gender, pregnancy, childbirth (or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, or gender identity. For example, this means you cannot be singled out at work because you identify as LGBTQ, your coworker cannot make snide comments about your time away from work for maternity leave, your gender identity must be recognized, and more. Essentially, it means that all people in a workplace are entitled to the same level of respect and to equal and fair treatment.
Virginia Values Act
On July 1, 2020, the Virginia Values Act became law. It made it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation in workplaces. Note that Arlington County and the city of Alexandria only prohibit employment discrimination that is based on sexual orientation.
It was only with the passage of the Virginia Values Act that the Virginia Human Rights Act extended to include the prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Virginia was the first Southern state to make employment discrimination based on a person’s LGBTQ identity illegal.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” This means employers cannot make decisions involving hiring, promotions, firing, or compensation based on gender. Courts have stated that Title VII protects against sexual harassment when it results in a hostile work environment that is based on gender. To be considered hostile, a victim’s work environment must be “severe or pervasive such that it alters the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create[s] an abusive working environment.” Only employees who work for an employer with at least 15 employees are covered by this law.
Are You a Victim?
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, you are entitled by law to expect your employer to end the harassment. You must first directly tell the harasser to stop. Next, you must file a report of the sexual harassment with your employer. Professional legal help is always available to you, anywhere in Virginia.