How Sexual-Harassment Laws Work

Question: If I didn't need the money, I'd quit my job. Some of the men in the office make passes, say things and make me feel like I'm a stripper even though I try to wear conservative clothes. Because I am cool to their advances, I think I may not have much of a chance for advancement. I know there's a law against sexual harassment on the job, but I don't know how it works and what I'm supposed to do. Do I get a lawyer or report it to a government agency?

Answer: Sexual harassment is a violation of the U. S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is enforced by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). You can look up the nearest EEOC office (your federal government listings in the phone book should have the number) and make an appointment to discuss your case.

If it looks like a pattern of harassment at your place of work, the EEOC might take action. Otherwise, you can get counseling on what kind of chances you might have by hiring an attorney. If you do get an attorney, pick someone who has had experience in labor law and civil rights cases.

You may also want to check in with your state or local government equal rights or human rights office. Sometimes local laws are tougher than the federal law, and you can get more effective action--quicker.

Basically, civil rights attorneys say there are two types of harassment based on sex: 1) Demand of sexual favors for job advancement (or demotion if favors are not granted), and 2) Hostility in the workplace: You are forced to listen to sexual slurs and smart remarks either from other employees or from customers and clients.

Many employers are taking steps to comply with the law and are setting up grievance committees or some person you can talk to without getting into trouble.

Q: I was told that I can put my money into a tax-free investment called Single Pay Life (insurance). What can you tell me about this?

A: Advisers we talked to say this type of investment is good for someone in a high tax bracket.

If you are not in a lofty tax bracket, you might be better off with government securities or high-income bond funds. Ask your tax man about your tax bracket and how taxable investments compare with the tax-free types.

Q: Three people on our street have had their homes broken into by hoodlums. The thieves took TVs, stereos, jewelry and left the places in a mess. How much does it cost to install a burglar alarm, and are alarms really worth the price you have to pay?

A: Alarms can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars on up into the thousands. The right kind of alarm can, indeed, inhibit burglars. But you may be able to take a number of other protective steps that cost relatively little money.

Check your locks on doors and windows. Get double-bolt locks for doors, and put pins or locks on your windows (make sure keys are nearby or pins can be removed from the inside so you won't be trapped in case of a fire). Lock all doors and windows before you leave your home.

Remember, most of the crimes are committed in daylight while you are away at work or at some place of recreation. Be sure garage doors are lockable, or use electric openers that automatically lock the doors. Have outside floodlights that come on at dusk automatically.

A well-lighted, well-locked home discourages burglars and the cost is relatively small.

Q: I am the co-owner of an apartment building for which I receive a management fee. Am I eligible to put some of the fee money into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account)?

A: Unless you are incorporated, you should put your retirement money into a Keogh Plan that is for savers who are self-employed. Contributions to Keogh Plans and IRAs are reported on your 1040 tax form in the section called "Adjustments to Income."

Q: If, at age 58, I choose to work 16 more quarters (four years), what extra Social Security benefits will I get? I have heard that I may not be able to collect the minimum benefits.

A: If, during your life, you have worked a total of 40 quarters, you should be eligible for Social Security benefits. You may start receiving reduced benefits at age 62 and full benefits at age 65.

Peter Weaver welcomes questions from readers for possible discussion in this column. Please write to Peter Weaver, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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