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Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual abuse in the workplace is shockingly common, with 38% of women and 15% of men having experienced sexual harassment while at work. Sexual abuse is distressing no matter how or where it happens, but it can be especially painful if victims are worried they’ll lose their job or face revenge if they report what happened to them. 

What Sexual Abuse in the Workplace Looks Like

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 describes two categories for workplace harassment — a hostile work environment and quid pro quo. While these aren’t the only two types of harassment, they encompass a lot of the inappropriate behavior that a victim of sexual abuse in the workplace may experience.   

Hostile work environment: A hostile work environment might involve requests for sexual favors from a colleague, unwanted physical contact, explicit texts or emails, repeated comments about an employee’s appearance, or inappropriate sexual conversations. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are some of the most common types of sexual harassment in the workplace. If your job is made more difficult by the behavior around you, you may be working in a hostile work environment. 

young woman sitting at the table and working while feeling a male hand on hers

Quid pro quo: When a manager promises a raise or promotion in exchange for a romantic relationship with a subordinate, this qualifies as quid pro quo harassment. Alternatively, if your boss makes it seem like you’ll be fired unless you become involved with them sexually, you’re experiencing quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo means “something for something” in Latin and may not be explicitly verbalized but implied. It involves someone in a supervisory role who can give or take away job benefits in the workplace.  

Constructive dismissal: If a company retaliates to a sexual harassment complaint by firing you, this is classified as wrongful termination and is grounds for legal action and can be reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But even if you aren’t fired or dismissed, you may still qualify for wrongful termination due to a concept known as constructive dismissal. If you resign from a job because the conditions are bad enough that you can’t work anymore, this is also a form of sexual harassment. 

How To Report Workplace Sexual Abuse 

What’s the next step after sexual abuse happens in the workplace? It can be difficult to share about unwanted sexual advances at work, especially if you’re afraid you’ll be indirectly punished for reporting it. However, there is no reason for you to be subjected to an offensive work environment. There are many options available for reporting sexual abuse or sexual harassment, and it’s up to you to decide which path is best for you. 

You can talk directly to the person harassing you and politely ask them to stop the behavior. If you choose to handle the incident this way, it’s good to have the conversation via email or text message, so you have a paper trail. 

If that’s unsuccessful, or if you choose not to approach the harasser directly, you can report the behavior to your company’s human resources department. Be prepared to share any written correspondence you may have or people who may have witnessed the inappropriate behavior. Ideally, your human resources department will act to stop the behavior, and things end there. Unfortunately, that’s not always what happens. About 14% of women and 5% of men have left a job or have asked for a new assignment due to sexual abuse

Your employer has a responsibility to address any sexual harassment or sexual abuse, and if that doesn’t happen, you may be eligible for legal action. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a company is liable for harassment if it results in constructive dismissal, termination, or other job changes. If your employment status changes as the result of harassment, the company is liable. Even if you weren’t demoted or let go due to the sexual abuse, you still might have a case, as your employer is expected to foster a workplace environment free from harassment and misbehavior.

Sexual Assault By Industry 

Sexual abuse in the workplace does not discriminate, but it is more common in some industries. A study from the Center for American Progress analyzed EEOC data and found that women in low-wage occupations are more likely to file sexual abuse claims. Sexual abuse also runs rampant in male-dominated industries, where women may face the fear of retaliation and be seen as weak for reporting sexual assault. 

Cleaning lady working in a hotel hallway

Sexual assault in the hotel and hospitality industry is so common that some states, including New Jersey and New York, legally require hotels to offer panic buttons to their staff.

Some of the other sectors where sexual abuse happens at higher rates include:

  • Food service  
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare 

Taking Legal Action

Should you take legal action after enduring sexual abuse in the workplace? You may be entitled to compensation for the harm you’ve experienced, especially if your employer didn’t take adequate steps to create a non-hostile work environment safe from sexual abuse. If you’ve lost wages due to the harassment, quit your job as a result of it, or experienced emotional or physical distress, obtaining legal representation and pursuing a sexual abuse civil lawsuit is an excellent way to seek justice. 

If you are unsure of how to handle a sexual abuse or sexual harassment incident at work, you should consult a law firm knowledgeable in sexual abuse cases. The team at the New Jersey law firm D’Arcy Johnson Day is experienced in representing survivors of sexual abuse. If you would like a free, confidential consultation regarding a potential civil lawsuit, contact us today at (866) 327-2952 or email

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