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What is a hostile work environment?

Inappropriate behavior in the workplace is often placed on a continuum of badness, where some actions or comments are deemed untimely while others are deemed attacking. When a worker feels harassed by the harasser and a sexually charged environment created by their co-workers then that worker may be a victim of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is prohibited by federal and Illinois state law and victims of it have rights.

It is important for readers to understand that sexual harassment is not just one action or behavior. It can be perpetrated by men or women against individuals of the same sex or of a different sex. It does not have to be direct comments to a person; offensive posters, pictures, or screen savers may create a hostile work environment and may subject individuals to sexual harassment.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment differs from quid pro quo harassment in several ways. A victim of hostile work environment harassment does not have to engage with their harasser in order to protect a work benefit or to get a promotion. Their harassment is based on the inescapable presence of sexually inappropriate imagery and conduct in their place of employment.

Working in a hostile work environment can be miserable and damaging to a worker. When they find that they are the victim of this disturbing form of employment discrimination, they should know that they have options. They may first wish to speak with an employment law advocate to discuss their situation and to begin to formulate a plan. Once they are prepared to file a claim they may be in a good position to change their work environment and rid their workplace of its hostile character.

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