FAQ – Sexual Harassment
What is sexual harassment under federal law?
Under federal law, Title VII specifically deals with discrimination based on sex or other protected classifications. This type of harassment may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. These unwanted advances are either a condition of employment, employment decisions are based on the acceptance or rejection of these advances or they interfere with the victim’s work performance.
Does Illinois have laws governing sexual harassment?
Yes, the Illinois Human Rights Act follows similar guidelines to federal law. In addition, Illinois state law applies to anyone who has one or more employees. EEOC jurisdiction covers companies with 15 or more employees.
It is important to note that Illinois recognizes the added responsibility of an employer with regard to anyone in a supervisory role. If a supervisor sexually harasses an employee, even one who is not a direct report, the employer is held responsible.
I am a single mom and I have to work but I am being sexually harassed. What do I do?
This is a very difficult situation and really depends on if your mental health and safety are at risk. It is possible to file a complaint while you continue to work. If the employer retaliates, you would then have a case of retaliation as well.
In all cases, affirmative steps should be taken. These can range from telling the harasser to stop, reporting the harassment to the Human Resources department or contacting an attorney to file a claim for sexual harassment. If the harassment is severe, police should be contacted. The law protects employees from retaliation for having reported sexual harassment to their employer.
If you decide to leave your job because of sexual harassment, you may qualify for unemployment. This falls under the definition of constructive discharge.
Is a single act of sexual harassment enough to file a valid claim?
A federal appeals court, also known as the Seventh Circuit, has held that a single act of sexual harassment can be a valid claim if it is sufficiently severe.
If a supervisor is the sexual harasser, but had no direct supervisory authority over the victim, can there be a valid claim?
The Illinois Supreme Court has held that the victim does not have to prove direct supervisory authority. Under the Illinois Human Rights Act the employer is responsible for the harassment conducted by its supervisor.
Does Illinois Criminal and/or Common Law protect sexual harassment victim?
Depending on the circumstances of the case, criminal laws may have been violated. Also, there may be civil remedies in addition to those provided by discrimination laws. For example, it may be possible to file a civil case for assault, battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
What should I do if I am being sexually harassed?
If you are being sexually harassed, you should:
- Say NO. Confront the harasser as soon as possible after the incident. Speak firmly and without apology. Maintain your composure without being rude or angry. Do not smile, which could send a mixed message. Communicate the inappropriateness of the harasser’s behavior. He or she may not realize their behavior is offensive. Be specific about what you found unwelcome and unacceptable.
- Keep Records. Take very specific notes, preferably in a bound notebook. Write everything down about each incident while it is still fresh in your mind. Include the date, time, place and description of what occurred. Save emails and text messages. Make a note about how you felt about the behavior. Include direct quotes, names of witnesses and any evidence. Keep these in a safe place, preferably away from your place of work.
- Report the Sexual Harassment. Report the sexual harassment to the Human Resources Department and/or management. Your employer may have a handbook that specifies what to do in cases of sexual harassment.
- Talk to Others. Talk with co-workers to learn if there are any witnesses or if others have been harassed. Perhaps someone has left the same job because they too were harassed. Witnesses and documentation win cases. The more credible evidence you have, the more your attorney will have to work with.
- Consult an experienced sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible. Call Ross Peters at the earliest possible time so he can help guide you through the process. He has been named one of Illinois’ best employment attorney.
If I talk to an attorney about sexual harassment, does the attorney have an obligation to keep the conversation confidential?
Absolutely. The attorney is legally bound to keep any conversations that take place confidential.
How do I know if I have a sexual harassment case?
First, put together all the facts relating to your situation with dates and times. Whether or not there is a valid claim can depend on specific facts. There is no substitute for talking to an attorney. When you talk to the attorney be prepared to go over things in chronological order. Also be prepared to give the following information:
- Name of employer
- Employer location
- Number of employees
- Whether or not you are a union member
- Exact information about your job
- Date you started work
- Who is sexually harassing you
- First date of the sexual harassment
- Last date of the sexual harassment
- A detailed description of the sexual harassment, including dates
- Who you complained to about the sexual harassment, if anyone
- What employer action was taken in response to your complaints
- Any witnesses that might be helpful to you.
- Whether the harasser is a supervisor or not
Is there anywhere I can turn that will give me free counseling services related to my being sexually harassed?
Yes, there are many places to seek free or low cost counseling.
The following may offer free counseling:
Catholic Charities: http://catholiccharities.net/services/counseling
Salvation Army: http://salarmychicago.org/family/counseling-program/
YWCA Rape Crisis Hotline: www.ywcachicago.org / 888.293.2080
Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center: www.zcenter.org / 847.872.7799
Even if you have not been raped, you can call the rape crisis hotline for suggestions regarding counselors in your area.
Where can I file a claim for sexual harassment?
Generally speaking, you can file a claim for sexual harassment at the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in appropriate circumstances, the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. Each agency has its own particular requirements. It is best to contact an attorney before filing a claim. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can guide you as to which agency is best given the circumstances of your case.
Do sexual harassment cases ever settle before a claim is filed?
Yes. We have had many cases settle before a claim is filed. In those cases, a letter was sent by Mr. Peters to the harasser and/or the harasser’s employer demanding they immediately take part in settlement negotiations.
If my case does settle, are there written settlement agreements that must be signed?
The harasser and/or the harasser’s employer will want a written agreement that contains many provisions, including a release of all claims. It is best to have an attorney go over that document.
Why should I hire Ross Peters to represent me in my sexual harassment case?
Mr. Peters has handled hundreds of cases involving sexual harassment and is recognized nationally in that area of the law. The Leading Lawyers Network has named him one of the Top Ten Plaintiffs Employment Law Attorneys in the State of Illinois.
In addition, he is both compassionate and a fierce advocate on behalf of sexual harassment victims. His opinions and advice have been sought out by national television shows, print media and radio stations.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment, contact Ross Peters for an initial consultation as soon as possible. He serves clients throughout Lake County, Cook County, McHenry County, DuPage County, Will County, Boone County, and Winnebago County. Appointments are available at locations convenient for you. Please call 312-595-9595, 847-625-1854 or 888-531-7400 today.