South Dakota and Workplace Equality

Generally speaking, Americans have come to recognize that “equality” is a term that, by definition, does not include limiters. When we say something is “mostly equal” or “equal, except for,” we are no longer talking about equality. If we must qualify how equal something is, equality has not been reached. 

That said, political recognition of human rights has broadened, and new laws have been introduced to adapt to the changes. One area where progress has been made is employment discrimination. Federal laws and laws in many states have evolved to be more inclusive in their protections against gender-based employment discrimination. Many South Dakota workers have benefitted from this progress. 

South Dakota Human Relations Act

The South Dakota Human Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on their gender (“sex”), race, color of skin, nationality, creed, ancestry, religion, or disability. The law applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees they have.  From small companies in Hillsview to big companies in Sioux Falls, South Dakota employers all share the same responsibility to protect their employees from discrimination. Key components of the law are:

  • Employers must investigate all reported discrimination incidents and take appropriate action.
  • It is illegal to suppress or to conceal discrimination.
  • It is illegal to retaliate against an employee who files a discrimination report.

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of workplace discrimination because it is entirely based on a victim’s gender.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Per the South Dakota Division of Human Rights, sexual harassment is unwanted attention at work that is based on your gender. It could be physical (a sexual advance), visual (an inappropriate photograph sent to a coworker via internal email), or verbal (a request for sexual favors). Sometimes consenting to this attention is a condition of employment or affects your compensation or assigned job duties. That is sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can interfere with your ability to perform your job. When harassment is severe and/or repeated, it creates a hostile working environment. 

Not Everyone Is Protected by the State

According to a 2015 study, the Human Relations Act does not extend protection to workers who have been harassed because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Employees who experience this type of sexual harassment are unable to file a complaint with the South Dakota Division of Human Rights. In situations where the Human Relations Act does not provide protection, workers must rely on the Title VII of the Federal Human Rights Act of 1964.

Where to Turn for Help

State and federal laws that are intended to protect employees from sexual harassment are complex. While many online resources can explain your basic rights and your employer’s legal responsibilities, you may need the assistance of an employment lawyer to help navigate the complexities of the law.

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