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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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You have the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates state and federal law.  “Sexual harassment” can include obscene comments and gestures, unwanted touching, verbal abuse and requests for sexual favors by supervisors or co-workers.

It is also illegal gender discrimination in the workplace to make offensive remarks about a person’s sex.  For example, making offensive comments about women in general and behavior that conveys degrading, sexist attitudes about women is illegal gender harassment. 

Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Sexual harassment can take many different forms.  Here are some examples:

  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
  • Unwanted pressure for sexual favors
  • Unwanted touching, such as standing close or brushing up against a person
  • Unwanted sexual looks or gestures, making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements
  • Unwanted pressure for dates
  • Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person
  • Touching an employee’s clothing, hair or body
  • Whistling and cat calls

Example scenarios of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Rosa’s supervisor asked her out several times and she said no.  One day he tells her that if she does not give him sexual favors, he will fire her.  When Rosa again tells him no, she finds out the next day that she is fired.
  • Maria works in an orchard on a crew of all men.  The crew leader often whistles at her when she walks by.  Some days he will make sexually suggestive gestures behind her back and the other men on the crew will laugh.  One day as he walked by her, he grabbed her bottom.  He will also sometimes come up behind her and press himself against her and whisper things into her ear.  All of this is unwanted, deliberate physical contact. 

Protect your rights:

  • If you are being sexually harassed at work, report it to your employer and ask them to fix it.
  • Write down the incidents of sexual harassment.  Be sure to write down the date, time, what happened, who saw it, and who did it.
  • Write down the names and contact information of any witnesses.
  • Keep this record of what happened in a safe place. 

Retaliation is illegal.  It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you or to take other negative action, such as firing you, because you reported the sexual harassment to the employer, talked to Iowa Legal Aid, or filed a complaint. 

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination at work and would like legal help, you can contact Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275 or WhatsApp:  515-443-2755.

Last Review and Update: Jun 17, 2019
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