Assaulted at Work: Are You Protected?

woman is sitting hunched at a table at home, the focus is on a man's fist

Hospitality and domestic workers are at considerable risk of sexual harassment and sexual assaults in the workplace and despite laws that provide protections and recourse against these actions, many victims continue to slip through the cracks. A staggering 77 percent of casino workers surveyed said they had suffered sexual harassment or assault at work, but only 33 percent complained to management. Lack of confidence in the system and fear of retaliation are the main reasons victims remain silent. In addition to criminal and civil lawsuits, workers who are raped, molested, or otherwise assaulted can file workers’ compensation claims for their injuries.

From 2005 to 2009, workplace sexual assaults accounted for 2.3% of all nonfatal instances of workplace violence. Several studies have indicated that as many as 40% of women have been the targets of sexual harassment at work.

Risks of Low-Wage Work

Many low-wage workers like cleaning staff, casino workers, shift workers, and others often work odd hours, in environments that are isolated, or in atmospheres where exposure to sexual advances is more tolerated. As a result, these workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault at work. They are also less likely to pursue criminal charges or file workers’ compensation claims due to fears of retaliation and losing their job. As such, the rates of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace may be considerably higher than the number of assaults that are reported to law enforcement or the workers’ compensation commission.

Workplace Assaults & Workers’ Compensation

The Illinois Workplace Violence Act requires employers to provide a safe workplace for workers. This includes providing protections against sexual assaults and harassment by current or former employees, customers, vendors, etc. Because rape and other sexual assaults are never accidental, these actions are not something that can preclude the individual’s right to pursue criminal and civil penalties in addition to filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Defense Against Retaliation

While Illinois is an employment-at-will state, retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim based on a sexual assault is unlawful. This includes termination of employment, reduction in wages or hours, or unreasonable adjustments to scheduled shifts that create unnecessary burdens for the employee. Workers who have faced retaliation after filing a claim can pursue legal action against their employer for these violations.