Reporting workplace sexual harassment in Pennsylvania

Understanding what to do if they are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace may help Pennsylvania workers protect themselves and their rights.

Although prohibited by state and federal law, sexual harassment, unfortunately, continues to occur in workplaces throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania reports that 20 percent of men and 81 percent of women are subjected to this type of illegal behavior at work. Understanding how to identify and report sexual harassment in the workplace may help employees protect their rights, as well as help ensure a safe working environment for them and their coworkers.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace involves unwelcome advances or requests to perform sexual favors. Additionally, other verbal, physical or visual conduct that is sexual in nature may be considered harassment if subjection to it is a term of a person's employment, rejection of it is used as a determining factor in employment decisions, or the conduct unreasonably interferes with a person's work performance or is meant to create an offensive, hostile or intimidating work environment.

Start at the lowest level

The first step people should take if they feel they have been sexually harassed in the workplace is to start at the lowest level. Employees should report inappropriate behavior to their supervisors or their companies' human resources department. Federal law requires employers to investigate all reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. If employers find that such behavior has occurred, they are required to take immediate corrective action.

Filing a formal complaint

Employees who are subjected to workplace sexual harassment are also entitled to file formal complaints with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. With few exceptions, complaints to the Human Relations Commission must be made within 180 days of the alleged harassment. A commission investigator is assigned to review the facts and details of the complaint, and a fact-finding conference may be held in order for the investigator to interview the respondent, as well as any witnesses.

Should the commission determine that harassment occurred, it may act to remedy the illegal conduct. This may include ordering the respondent to immediately stop the specific behavior and, if necessary, implement actions, programs or compensation the commission finds necessary to resolve the harassment. If it determines there is not sufficient evidence that harassment occurred, the commission may dismiss the complaint.

Seeking legal guidance

Talking about sexual harassment when it occurs in the workplace can be uncomfortable, and even frightening, for employees. However, taking immediate action may be essential in preventing the behavior from continuing. Therefore, those who have been subjected to this type of unlawful and inappropriate conduct in the workplace may benefit from consulting with an attorney. A legal representative may help them understand their rights and options, as well as guide them through the process.