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Sexual harassment can be a serious concern and an all-too-frequent occurrence for workers in Tennessee and across the United States. Indeed, a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that only 10 percent of employees subjected to sexual harassment on the job file an official complaint with the agency. Approximately 90 percent of people who have suffered workplace harassment do not file formal claims because they have a well-founded fear of retaliation in their workplace or concern that they will not be believed.

A spokesperson for the EEOC noted that sexual harassment is illegal and that companies’ training should evolve with the times, including the expanded understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace that has been achieved over the years through victims’ advocacy. A task force of the agency found in 2016 that harassing conduct on the basis of gender was almost never reported, while unwanted touching was reported in only 8 percent of cases. Even the most frequently reported type of harassment, direct sexual coercion, was only reported 30 percent of the time.

Workers’ fears that inhibit them from reporting harassment are grounded in reality, the report continued. In 2003, a study found that 75 percent of workers who complained publicly about discrimination or mistreatment on the job had suffered retaliation of some type. At other workplaces, sexual harassment complaints are frequently minimized as unimportant or otherwise dismissed. While much current training is focused on evading legal liability for harassment in the workplace, the task force urged changing that focus to creating a new workplace environment that does not reward harassment.

People who have experienced sexual harassment on the job have the right to fight back against discrimination and unlawful retaliation. An employment lawyer may be able to work with victims of harassment to file an official complaint and present a legal challenge to employers that failed to stop harassment or punished a victim.