Sexual harassment in the workplace has gained traction in recent years as more and more employees come forward with their stories. While many perceive workplace sexual harassment as something that only women go through, recent times have shown that men suffer from it too. Everyone should be aware of the problems that sexual harassment causes.
When you join a new role or get a new boss, you want to prove yourself and create a name and reputation for yourself. You want the various department heads to notice you for your talents and hard work. When the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) takes notice of your physical appearance rather than your cerebral achievements, you might find yourself in disbelief.
Sexual Harassment is More Than Unwelcome Sexual Advances
Let’s clarify a few things first. Workplace sexual harassment is not restricted to just sex itself or when your colleague or superior tries to extract sexual favors from you. Sexual harassment includes any act that makes you feel harassed simply because of your gender.
Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are not reserved for women alone. Men suffer from it too. Many men endure harassment by their male or female colleagues or superiors, just like how male colleagues or bosses harass women employees.
Today sexual harassment is illegal and has been so for a few years now. Unwanted sexual comments and sexual advances have no place and never had a place in the workplace or society as a whole. Companies finally, however, are starting to take sexual harassment allegations seriously.
When Your CEO Harasses Sexually Harasses You
If you have experienced unwelcome sexual advances or have that you have been sexually harassed, you are not alone.
The infamous #MeToo movement shed light on what female employees have and continue to endure. . This movement showed many others silently suffering needn’t do so anymore. This confidence and opportunity to share made a small confession into a worldwide movement.
The power imbalance between employees often makes them hesitate to come forward. Harassment from a CEO creates the ultimate power imbalance because the CEO is the head of the company.
When your CEO sexually harasses you, it leaves you in a tricky spot. Who do you complain to? Yes, your company has a human resources department with dedicated employees who want to help you, but when you complain against the company’s CEO, how many will act upon it?
Sexual harassment complaints against CEOs are rare for this very reason. Employees may not understand that there are places to which they can turn to report sexual harassment, even when the Chief Executive Officer is the harasser.
Why Do People Tolerate Sexual Harassment?
Even employees and colleagues who support and fight for justice are sometimes silenced when it is sexual harassment. A person who complained about unfair salaries or the work environment might be quiet when it comes to sexual harassment.
Borderline sexual harassment can leave a person confused. They are not sure if it actually happened; or if the words actually meant what they perceived them to be. This confusion can cause them to doubt their own judgment. When they eventually find the courage to discuss it with a confidante and realize it was sexual harassment, it might be months or years since the event.
The truth is that there is really no such thing as borderline sexual harassment. If the behavior is unwelcome, you have the right to complain. Complaining about unwelcome sexual harassment is considered protected activity.
Once you engage in protected activity by complaining about sexual harassment, your job should be protected under the law. If you are terminated or otherwise disciplined following a complaint of sexual harassment, then you have just been retaliated against. And you would likely have a retaliation claim.
In most cases, people do not actually “tolerate” sexual harassment. They just do not know how to respond or react to it. They are caught off guard, and it may take them time to accept and process it. While some can do it easily, many still struggle with it.
What Can You Do about CEO Sexual Harassment?
When you realize your CEO is talking or behaving in an unacceptable manner, which could be perceived as sexual harassment, here are a few things you can do:
1. Start collecting proof. Be it phone messages, emails, or photos.
2. Try to get someone to accompany you to all the meetings, inside or outside the office with your CEO. If you need to go out for a meeting, try to take another employee with you; this might dampen their attempts.
3. Keep the door open at all times. If your CEO calls you to their room to discuss something, keep the door open so that people outside know what is happening.
4. Put some distance between you and them. If you are at lunch, a meeting, or just casually standing and chatting at the cafeteria, move away from them and create space.
5. Find a friend in the office who will stand by you if you need to take legal action. If the harassment continues, you might have to take legal action, and you may need to gather proof.
6. Be mentally prepared to be fired. Yes, this doesn’t seem right, but it happens. If you have decided to confront your CEO and take action against them, be prepared to be fired. It may not happen, but you need to be mentally prepared so that they cannot hold that card over your head.
7. Know your rights. Find an advocate who specializes in workplace sexual harassment. Knowing what is right from wrong will make you more confident handling the situation.
8. You can take legal action without having to suffer the consequences. If you have enough proof and the courage to see the entire thing through, you can take legal action against your CEO. The CEO and a few other employees might try to blame you and smear your character but be prepared and hold strong.
10. Consider filing an internal complaint regarding the alleged misconduct. Hopefully, this complaint reaches the corporate office and starts an internal investigation. Many companies do aim to create an inclusive workplace. As such, the CEO might receive corrective action as a result of the investigation.
The EEOC Process
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that investigates violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VII sexual harassment and the hostile work environment that forms from it, are illegal in the workplace.
After you’ve made an internal inquiry, which may go nowhere when the harassment is coming from a CEO, you might consider filing a charge with the EEOC. A charge formally starts an investigation into the company’s practices.
Unfortunately, you only have so long to file a charge for sexual harassment. Usually, you have a maximum of 300 days. If you believe that you have been victimized by your CEO, or any other employee, you can consult with a sexual harassment lawyer.
A sexual harassment lawyer can help you file a charge. And hopefully, the allegations of harassment will reach the company’s board. Filing a charge is also protective activity, as discussed above.
If you’re fired, then you might have a wrongful termination claim.
Going to the HR department may not be a feasible solution if you belong to a small company and the CEO is the one sexually harassing you. Though unfair, sometimes you need to be prepared to leave that career you built for yourself. Legally you are entitled to your job and your safety, but it can be tricky.
The above in no way constitutes legal advice.