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How young workers can protect themselves from sexual harassment

At this time of the year, many Minnesota college graduates are busy making plans for their future. Specifically, some are contemplating whether to pursue a graduate degree, while many others are looking for employment to help launch their career and, of course, pay their bills.

As this latter group of young people prepares to enter the modern workforce, it's important for them to understand and appreciate the unfortunate reality that sexual harassment is still a problem at many places of employment.    

The good news, however, is that they are protected from sexual harassment under both state and federal law, and can take steps to hold their employer accountable if these well-established rights are indeed violated.  

Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact, or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature that is

  • Made a term or condition of employment
  • Made a factor in an employment decision
  • Interfering substantially with an individual's employment, or creating an intimidating/hostile employment environment, and an employer either knows or should know about the harassment, yet fails to take the necessary actions in a timely manner

Most employers will have a sexual harassment policy that can be found in a company handbook or posted in a common employee space such as a break room. This policy will outline when, how and to whom you are supposed to report incidents of what you believe to be sexual harassment.

Even if your employer does not have such a policy in place (a possible red flag), the most logical place to go is the nearest human resources representative.

Above all else, it's important for young workers not to be afraid to report sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation or even losing their job. The simple fact is that this type of conduct violates Minnesota law and federal law, and that the supervisors or co-workers responsible for it must be held accountable.

If you believe that you been victimized by sexual harassment or any other type of workplace discrimination, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who will listen to you, explain the law and help you pursue the justice you deserve.

Source: AOL Jobs, "What every teen (and parent) needs to know about sexual harassment at work," Donna Ballman, May 13, 2014; Minnesota Department of Human Rights, "Definitions: Sexual Harassment," June 2014 

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