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How to Handle Sexual Harassment in Law Offices

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What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

"Sexual harassment" refers to undesired sexual advances. Sexual harassment is a violation of personal rights provided for in Civil Rights Act Title VII, which was passed in1993. According to the aforementioned Act, sexual harassment constitutes undesired sexual advances, including words or actions that are sexual in nature and have a direct effect on a person's employment in terms of performance and/or making the work environment uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is not only be perpetrated by a member of the opposite sex; a member of the same sex as the victim might be responsible. Another major element that is used to distinguish sexual harassment from harmless conduct is the intention of the harasser. If the harasser does not have any sexual intentions, then the alleged conduct or words may not qualify or amount to sexual harassment. Lack of consent is yet another important element that must be proved in sexual harassment cases. There must be proof that the victim did not consent to the sexual advances, words, or conduct of the harasser.

Prevalence of Sexual Harassment

The Human Rights Act of 1993, which seeks to define human rights and protect those rights, states that any acts or words that violate human dignity amount to an abuse of human rights. The law has put the onus on all employers and all senior-level management in organizations to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in when people are on the job. Despite the passing of this act, however, sexual harassment is still prevalent in workplaces, especially in law offices. Sexual harassment by lawyers is very common in the world today. While it would be expected that such a violation of the law would not occur in law offices as people working there are familiar with the law, law offices are actually the place where sexual harassment is most prevalent.

Read related: Leave Sex, Politics, Religion, and Social Activism out of Your Job Search and Career If You Want to Work in a Large Law Firm

A classic example is that of Rena Weeks, who had been employed as a secretary by a reputable law firm. The man she was working under, however, constantly pursued her, always making clear his sexual intentions. Rena quit the firm and sued her former boss. She was awarded significant compensation, not only for the embarrassment and depression she suffered but also for the financial loss occasioned by her resignation.

It is quite obvious that there are numerous cases of this nature, many of which are never reported as the victims suffer in silence. The step that Weeks took was a brave one which unfortunately not many women are able to take. Weeks' case goes a long way to show how prevalent sexual harassment still is, especially in law offices, more than ten years after the legislation against sexual harassment was passed.

What to Do When Sexually Harassed

The first thing that victims of sexual harassment are advised never to do is to keep quiet about the problem. Failure to report sexual harassment at its early stages could bring adverse consequences later. It is also important that the victim takes the bold step of confronting the harasser. The harasser should be made aware that his behavior and/or his words or conduct are undesirable and uncalled for. It is also wise to seek support from other people, especially coworkers. In extreme cases, however, a victim has a legal right to file a suit against the harasser under the relevant laws and legislation.

What to Do When Falsely Accused of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is not only a violation of the relevant laws; it is also a violation of societal morals. Therefore, it follows that it is a weighty and grievous offense that causes a lot of emotional distress, either for the victim or for any person who is falsely accused of the offense. As a matter of fact, falsely accusing any person of sexual harassment is in itself a violation of the law that can lead to a jail term. False accusations of that sort amount to defamation of character, and one can, therefore, file a case under the relevant defamation laws.

How to Protect Yourself from Sexual Harassment

It is not easy to anticipate sexual harassment and therefore know how to protect yourself. However, to be on the safe side, it is important to always keep a few things in mind to ensure that you protect yourself from sexual harassment. Firstly, it is important to always follow your company's dress code when going to work; revealing clothes should not be worn in the workplace. Jokes that are sexual in nature should be avoided at all costs. This will help prevent misinterpretations by others. As already mentioned, if you feel that you are being sexually harassed, it is not wise to remain silent about it.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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