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When you feel that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, it is sometimes challenging to find the correct person to go to for advice or assistance. We hope that the information provided in this guide will be helpful to you in understanding your options.
What is sexual harassment and what are the laws that protect against it?
Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
- It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
- Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
- Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
- Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) page contains a simple and straightforward definition of sexual harassment. (http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Website: http://www.eeoc.gov
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and covers cases of sexual harassment. Full text of that law can be found here: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/vii.html.
EEOC Introduction to Sexual Harassment; A more detailed explanation of sexual harassment from the EEOC website. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm
- If you are at an educational institution or receiving Federal funds, Title IX may also apply. This law states (in part):
- “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .”
- Your institution may have a Title IX Coordinator who can assist you.
- The US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights also provides resources on sexual harassment and how to address it: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/sexharassresources.html
Key facts to remember regarding sexual harassment:
Discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex (or gender), disability, genetic information and other protected characteristics are prohibited by federal, state, and local laws.
- Sexual harassment and other forms of prohibited harassment are wrong, degrading, and illegal.
- Employers have an obligation to provide a harassment-free work environment to all employees.
- Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that offends a person with reasonable sensitivities and is used as a basis for making employment decisions or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Employees have no obligation to tell their supervisors that their actions are unwelcome. It is the supervisor’s obligation not to do anything of a sexual nature that could offend a reasonable person.
- A supervisor should never engage in conduct that could be viewed as harassing and is required to promptly stop harassment by coworkers, customers, clients, or vendors as soon as it is observed or brought to light.
- An employer or supervisor should never retaliate or permit retaliation against an employee who complains about harassment.
- You are not alone. You do have options that allow you to submit your complaint or seek advice safely.
Who should you turn to for advice?
Most individuals seek advice from those they feel most comfortable with, including close friends, family members, faculty, and/or chairs of departments. There may be someone more qualified to help you deal with sexual harassment, however, such as the Title IX coordinator or ombudsmen at your institution or perhaps individuals in the postdoctoral training office or the Human Resources department at your institution. Many people do not file complaints because they don’t know the appropriate people to ask or are advised against it. Find out if your institution has a sexual harassment policy. Well written policies will clearly identify the correct person to approach.
Who to file a charge with?
You can file a charge with either the EEOC (https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm) or with a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). A FEPA is a state or local agency who enforces state, county, or city laws prohibiting discrimination and usually these laws are similar to those enforced by the EEOC. However, in some cases, these agencies provide greater protection to workers.
Download a list of State Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs)
This guide was developed by the NPA task force on sexual harassment in October 2017:
Tullia C. Bruno, Ph.D.
Department of Immunology, University of Pittsburgh; member, Board of Directors, NPA
National Postdoctoral Association
Tracy Costello, Ph.D.
Moffitt Cancer Center; member, Board of Directors, NPA
Andrew Bankston, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute; member, Board of Directors, NPA
Juliet Moncaster, Ph.D.
School of Medicine, Boston University; member, Board of Directors, NPA
Barbara Natalizio, Ph.D.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; member, Board of Directors, NPA
Kate Sleeth, Ph.D.
City of Hope Beckman Research Institute; member, Board of Directors, NPA
*Institutional affiliations included for identification purposes only. Affiliations may have changed.