Workplace sexual harassment: a primer

Unwanted sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in New Mexico and across the country.

Both the New Mexico state legislature and the federal government recognize the importance of our professional environment and how it can impact our overall personal liberty. That is why there are both state and federal laws designed to maintain a workplace free of sexual harassment from managers/bosses/supervisors, fellow employees, clients, vendors and other third parties we encounter as part of our jobs.

What is sexual harassment?

There are two basic categories of conduct that, if unwanted, are legally recognized to be sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo - the victim is promised that particular actions or inactions will occur based on his or her acquiescence to the harassment. Examples of this type of harassment would be if an employee is promised a promotion if she were to sleep with a supervisor, won't be fired as long as he agrees to not report a colleague's unwanted sexual advances to human resources or is told that unless she dresses in a provocative way, she will be denied further employment opportunities.
  • Hostile work environment - the victim isn't subjected to specific "consequences" in relation to the harassment, but going to work becomes unbearable because of it. Examples of this would include unwanted sexual advances, jokes or comments that use explicit sexual language, inappropriate intimate questions, graphic or vulgar emails or communications of a sexual nature, or spreading rumors about a person's sexual history, activity or preferences.

Is sexual harassment illegal?

In a word: yes. Sexual harassment violates both New Mexico state and U.S. federal law (See the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for more information). For federal legal protections to apply, however, the workplace must have 15 or more employees.

What should you do if you've been the victim of sexual harassment?

If you have been subjected to quid pro quo or hostile work environment sexual harassment, you may feel alone, victimized and like you are stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place. You may be afraid to speak out for fear it will make the situation worse or will cost you your job. You don't have to suffer in silence, though. If a co-worker, client or other third party is harassing you, speak with a supervisor; if a manager or other superior is responsible for the behavior, report it to your company's human resources department. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

An important note about sexual harassment that many people don't know is that, in some instances, it may be possible for someone not directly subjected to the harassment to bring a claim. Such an action might come about because a third party was denied a promotion or other opportunity because the victim of quid pro quo harassment received it instead.

You should also consider speaking with an experienced employment law attorney like those at the Albuquerque law office of Moody and Warner if you've been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace. A civil claim can not only make the harassment stop, it can also help you hold those responsible for your suffering accountable for their actions. Call Moody and Warner toll free at 505-227-8343 or send an email.