Sexual Harassment in the Work Place: Know Your Rights

Perhaps you experienced sexual harassment at work and are wondering how best to handle the incident or the ongoing behavior. Or maybe an unpleasant occurrence left you wondering whether it was actually sexual harassment and what you can or should do about it. When it comes to workplace sexual harassment, the suffering employee needs to know that the behavior is not acceptable, and that it is illegal.

So what exactly qualifies as workplace sexual harassment, and if you believe that you have experienced sexual harassment at work, what can you do to protect yourself and prevent the continuation of the inappropriate and illegal behavior?

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What constitutes workplace sexual harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” The victim of sexual harassment can be either male or female, and so can the perpetrator. Sexual harassment includes harassment from a member of the same sex as the victim.

While non-serious single isolated incidents are not going to create liability for the employer, a single severe incident would be illegal, as would a pattern of behavior that “creates a hostile or offensive work environment.”

This means if your coworker or supervisor asked you on a date, that probably does not constitute sexual harassment. If however, that coworker continues to push you on the issue, repeatedly making requests, comments and advances despite your refusal that would likely qualify. Additionally, if your boss asks you on a date just one time, but states that your continued employment with the companywill depend on you saying yes, that is sexual harassment.

These hypotheticals touch on the two categories of sexual harassment as it is recognized by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967.

Sexual harassment under the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act is a federal law that sets a minimum standard for what constitutes sexual harassment. Within the law, sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination. Additional protections exist within the laws of many states.

The Civil Rights Act identifies two categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo sexual harassment, and sexual harassment that creates a hostile workplace. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when the victim’s job, or upward mobility is made dependent on his or her willingness to submit to someone’s sexual advances. This would be the case if a person’s boss said “kiss me and I will give you the promotion.” In quid pro quo cases, only one incident is required to create a violation of the law.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment requires actions to have been either so severe or so pervasive that they make the place of work offensive. In evaluating this type of claim, a court will look at a list of several elements. The factors that might contribute include whether the offending party or parties were co-workers or supervisors of the victim, the frequency of the behavior, whether others joined in, whether the conduct was offensive or hostile, whether the conduct was physical, verbal or both, and whether there was one victim or multiple victims.

Any victim in a sexual harassment case will also have to show their subjective belief that the conduct was offensive, abusive or hostile, and that a reasonable person who was in the plaintiff’s position would also have objectively found the behavior to be offensive, abusive or hostile.

I was sexually harassed at work, is my employer liable?

Places of employment with at least 15 employees are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Even if you work for a smaller employer though, there is a good chance that your state has a law that covers workplace sexual harassment at small businesses. Whether your employer is found liable will likely depend on who the perpetrator was, and how the company handled the incident.

What if my employer retaliates against me for making a claim?

Retaliation for exposing sexual harassment can happen, but it is illegal. Still, you should be sure to keep a record of everything at your place of work, including positive reviews, and a documentation of anything related to your claim in case your employer challenges you.

What should I do if I suffered workplace sexual harassment?

If you suffered from sexual harassment at work, contact an employment attorney to seek compensation and the protection of your rights.

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At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with you to find the best solution to your employment law related legal issues. Contact Stern Law, PLLC today at (844) 808-7529 for a free consolation with an experienced employment attorney.

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