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Workplace sexual harassment in Colorado: know your rights

As far too many Colorado employees have had to learn firsthand, sexual harassment can turn going to work into a nightmarish experience. Although some progress has been made toward the eradication of workplace sexual harassment, the struggle is nowhere near complete.

Sexual harassment remains a major problem across a wide range of industries in Colorado, and it comes in many forms. Although sexual harassment of employees frequently involves blatant and unwelcome requests for sex, this is far from the only type of sexual harassment prohibited by law.

State and federal laws protect Colorado workers

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Although sexual harassment is often regarded as a women’s issue, the truth is that victims as well as perpetrators of sexual harassment may be either male or female, and the law applies equally regardless of the gender of the people involved.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by Colorado state law and by federal statute. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace sexual harassment is considered a form of illegal discrimination. Title VII defines two main types of workplace sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor makes or threatens to make employment-related decisions based upon the worker’s willingness or unwillingness to perform sexual favors. For example, a manager may commit quid pro quo harassment by threatening to fire a worker who does not give in to a demand for sex, or by promising a promotion or other benefit to a worker in exchange for granting sexual favors.

Hostile work environment

Another type of sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace becomes so severe and pervasive that it creates what is known as a hostile work environment.

Examples of sexual conduct that, if unwelcome, may contribute to a hostile work environment include:

  • Touching, grabbing or other physical conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Making sexual jokes, comments or remarks.
  • Displaying pornography, sexually explicit drawings or other sexual imagery.
  • Physically interfering with a person’s movement.

The perpetrators of the offensive conduct may be supervisors, co-workers or even non-employees; it is not necessary that the harasser be in a position of authority with regard to the harassed individual. It is also important to note that an employee may have a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment even if he or she was not directly targeted by the offensive behavior.

Contact a lawyer to stop sexual harassment

Employees who experience sexual harassment at work are encouraged to contact a knowledgeable employment lawyer to discuss the circumstances of their situation and learn about their legal options. Not only may they be able to help stop the abuse for themselves and other employees like them, but they may also be eligible to receive monetary compensation for the harassment they have had to endure.