Sexual harassment remains a significant problem in the American workplace, even as awareness of this issue increases. Understanding the reality of sexual harassment can give employees the strength to seek help.

Learn more about detecting, preventing and fighting back against this issue at your job.

Actions that constitute sexual harassment

Federal law defines unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace as physical or verbal actions that create an offensive or intimidating environment and/or affect the recipient’s performance at the job. This type of conduct on the part of colleagues, supervisors, non-employees or vendors at a job site can negatively impact both men and women. Harassment can exist even when the offended party does not experience financial damages.

The impact of harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is both pervasive and significantly under-reported. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that in its most conservative estimate, 1 in 4 American workers has been subject to unwanted lewd words or actions. However, the EEOC also noted that up to 75% of incidents remain unreported.

While victims of harassment often ignore the actions and do not report their discomfort, they can still experience repercussions. Harvard Business Review reports that 80% of harassed women leave their positions within two years.

Who experiences harassment

Although anyone can experience sexual harassment, this problem is more common in certain industries. The National Women’s Law Center reports that women who work in construction, low-wage jobs and service-based jobs are more likely to run into this issue than those in other industries. In addition, the Washington Post found that 10% of sexual harassment cases involve men as victims and that claims by men rose by 200% from 1990 to 2009.

The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report sexual harassment. In addition, if you tell your supervisor and HR department about the harassment and the company fails to act, you can file a complaint with the EEOC and potentially seek financial damages.