Illinois makes sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. But what is considered sexual harassment? Where do we draw then line on what constitutes just bad behavior from sexual harassment? And when does it become an issue?
In my mid-twenties, I was working in commercial real estate as a broker. I was the only woman in this thirty broker office, which was filled with sexually charged men between the ages of 25-30. Most of them were single and would share their sexual conquests with the guys in the office. With all of us working in cubes, it was impossible to ignore the dialog. All I could think about was I never would date a guy under thirty!
It was distasteful, but not what I would consider sexual harassment. But, I had a general manager who favored his top brokers, of which I was one of them. Being “one of the guys” worked for the most part, until one night I had dinner with my boss to talk about our real estate deals. After dinner he walked me to my apartment and asked “if he could come up.” This wasn’t a date, but at that moment it sure felt like one. I was hurt that he would even ask. Our work relationship would never be the same. He crossed the line.
Was this sexual harassment? In my opinion it was. I didn’t report him to HR, I just ignored the advance and carried on, yet I was deeply hurt. The Illinois definition of sexual harassment consists of an unwelcome sexual advance or requests from either a man or woman showing suggestive photos, making unwelcome advances, requesting sexual favors or threatening an employee’s job if they do not comply.
An employee can file charges against the employer as well as the harasser if they feel they have been sexually harassed. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to prove the harassment, as in my case. The words don’t necessarily say sex, yet you know when you are harassed. No one should be placed in this position in the workplace. If you feel you are being sexually harassed report it to the HR department.
Just know that the person accused will be in denial and your work relationship will be strained. Unfortunately, it may mean you need to look for another job. Yet by taking a stance, you may save others from experiencing this harassment. It is time to speak up. I wish I did.