What Defines Sexual Harassment in Rhode Island and Massachusetts?

When people go to work, they should be able to enjoy a harassment-free environment. Rhode Island employers have a responsibility to foster a welcoming and supportive work culture that protects employees from acts of gender-based discrimination, intimidation, or harassment. Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace can happen anywhere and to anyone. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Between FY 2018 and FY 2021, sexual harassment charges accounted for 27.7 percent of all harassment charges compared to 24.7 percent of all harassment charges between FY 2014 and FY 2017.” Although this data suggests that more victims are taking steps to report incidents of sexual harassment, many victim advocacy groups estimate that as many as 90 percent of individuals who have experienced harassment do not take formal action against the perpetrator or employer.

Many victims of sexual harassment do not feel comfortable speaking up, as they may fear retaliation or ridicule from the perpetrator or their employer. However, not only are there several legal remedies available to victims of sexual harassment, but filing a complaint is a crucial step in highlighting these unlawful practices and holding employers accountable for their failure to maintain a safe working environment. If you believe you have experienced sexual harassment at your place of employment, consider discussing the specifics of your situation and exploring your options with a dedicated and compassionate Rhode Island employment law attorney. Together, you can identify the most strategic path forward to ensure that your rights are protected and that you can move toward a brighter and more supportive future.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in Rhode Island and Massachusetts?

First, it’s helpful to take some time to define the term “sexual harassment.” Most people associate this term with unwanted physical touch, but it’s important to recognize that sexual harassment encompasses a far broader range of behaviors. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from acts of sex or gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC defines sexual harassment 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.” In other words, when an employee is made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated in the workplace, either through unwanted sexual advances, sexual jokes, offensive gestures, or other forms of harassment, they have the right to report these incidents and file a formal complaint. The federal law, Title VII, applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including employment agencies, labor organizations, and state, federal, and local governments. The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act protects employees from the same types of sex-based discrimination and applies to employers in the state employing four or more employees. The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act also protects employees from the same types of sex-based discrimination and applies to employers in the state employing six or more employees.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Although some instances of sexual harassment in the workplace can be clear violations of the employee’s civil rights, many incidents can be murkier and more complicated to define as sexual harassment. For instance, a boss who strongly implies that you will be promoted in exchange for performing sexual favors gives you cause to file a complaint. However, you may wonder if more subtle incidents constitute sexual harassment and whether they are worth reporting. A co-worker who tells an off-color joke that makes you feel uncomfortable may be hard to identify as sexual harassment, as would a supervisor who repeatedly makes comments about your appearance—making you feel self-conscious and vulnerable at work. Ultimately, any comments or incidents that make you feel uneasy, intimidated, or unsafe at your place of employment may qualify as sexual harassment under state and federal laws. Even if you are uncertain whether you have experienced sexual harassment, it’s best to discuss the details of your situation with a knowledgeable and understanding Rhode Island employment law attorney so you can take action and regain control of your life.

Steps That Sexual Harassment Victims Can Take

Experiencing sexual harassment can be intimidating and destabilizing. However, it’s essential to understand that you do not have to endure or tolerate this unlawful behavior. As soon as you experience sexual harassment or discrimination by a supervisor or co-worker, there are steps you can take to put an end to this behavior and seek several potential remedies, such as compensation, restored employment opportunities, or workplace modifications. Below are just a few steps you can take to report the harassment and start regaining control of your agency.

Keep Detailed Records of the Sexual Harassment

Whenever an incident occurs, be sure to document it in as much detail as possible. You can create a written account of what happened, including the date, time, place, names of employees involved, and details of the incident. It’s also important to describe what you did or said in response to the harassment. For instance, if you voiced your opposition or told the individual that you were uncomfortable and they continued to harass you, this information will strengthen your claim against the harasser. It is also important to document the names of any other employees or witnesses who saw the offensive conduct take place.

Gather Evidence of Your Strong Work Record

If the matter proceeds to court, it’s essential to provide evidence of your strong work ethic and job performance. Gather copies of performance reviews, positive reports from your supervisor, and other documents that establish your dedication to your job and your proven track record of performing work assignments well. Your attorney can also help you identify any other witnesses who can attest to your work performance or corroborate your descriptions of the sexual harassment you endured.

Work With an Experienced Attorney to Explore Your Options

Being subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace can be isolating and overwhelming. It’s natural to feel intimidated and vulnerable during this challenging time, but you do not have to go through it alone. Enlisting the guidance of a trusted and empathetic Rhode Island employment law attorney is the best way to feel supported and empowered as you take steps to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Together, we can determine the most strategic course of action, whether that means seeking compensation for any lost wages, denied benefits, or emotional pain you suffered as a result of these inexcusable incidents.

Retaliation for Complaining About Sexual Harassment Is Unlawful

Under federal law and the laws of both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, it is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for submitting or filing a complaint of sexual harassment. This applies to internal complaints to supervisors and administrators (such as complaints made to a human resources department) and formal complaints filed in an administrative agency or court. Employers must also ensure that any measures taken while conducting an investigation into complaints of sexual harassment are not retaliatory.

Everyone deserves to feel safe at work. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, the dedicated and experienced employment law attorneys at Sinapi Law Associates, Ltd. are ready to help you explore the remedies available to you. We have handled numerous sexual harassment cases in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and we understand that the process of reaching out to an attorney can be overwhelming and nearly as stressful as experiencing the harassment itself. We are here to listen and review your potential claims with empathy and understanding. We encourage you to call our office today at (401) 739-9690 to get started with a caring and supportive Rhode Island employment law attorney.

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