Hostile Work Environment Harassment Lawyer
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How Can Hostile Work Environment Harassment Lawyers Help You
Courts have held employers liable for hostile work environment harassment when supervisors:
- Actually knew about the harassment: Examples of when a company actually knew of the harassment include when a person in authority actually observed the harassment, the victim files a formal complaint, or the harassment is widely and openly practiced.
- Could have learned of the harassment: Examples of when a company should have learned of the harassment include when harassment is blatant, employees raised complaints which were ignored, or managers witness conduct which indicates they should make further inquiry.
- Failed to take immediate and appropriate action to correct it: In addition to knowledge of the harassment, the company must have failed to take action in order to be found liable. When the company learns of harassment, it must act promptly, and the action it takes must be effective. An effective remedy is one that will stop the harassment and prevent it from recurring. For example, if a company receives complaints of severe verbal harassment and sends the offender to counseling without any other discipline, the company likely has not devised an effective remedy if the harassment reoccurs.
What Are the Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment Legal Action?
To make a prima facie case for the existence of a hostile work environment, the following elements must be proven:
- There must be actions or behavior that discriminate against a protected classification such as age, religion, disability, or race.
- The behavior or communication must be pervasive, lasting over time, and not limited to an off-color remark or two that a coworker found annoying.
- The hostile behavior, actions, and/or communication must be severe. Not only is it pervasive over time, but the hostility must seriously disrupt the employee’s work.
Can Strict Liability Apply to Hostile Work Environment Harassment?
A small minority of courts take the position that employers can be strictly liable if the harasser is at a senior level and uses his authority to carry out the harassment. They hold that because supervisors (especially those at high levels) can wield power against subordinates and that power was given them by the employer, the employer should be liable when they exercise their power improperly.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a type of harassment at work and usually consists of unwanted sexual advances, sexual conduct, or other verbal or physical actions having an underlying or expressed sexual nature. The definitions of sexual harassment or how it affects a person vary.
However, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC") has defined sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature." The EEOC also states that sexual harassment in the work place must be so frequent or severe that is "creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision." More information about this topic in this article entitled Workplace Harassment.
There are two legally recognized types sexual harassment defined as:
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a form of work employment harassment where an employee is promoted or keeps his or her job based on whether the employee gave in to, or rejected, sexual advances from a superior. Even if an employee submits to the sexual advances and is subsequently promoted, the employee is not barred from ever making a sexual harassment claim.
- Hostile Work Environment. This occurs when a co-worker or supervisor makes sexual advances or comments to an employee that makes the working environment of the employee offensive and hostile. The harassment affects the employee from doing his or her job effectively.
What Is Non-Direct Harassment?
Non-direct harassment occurs where a third party who was not the target of sexual harassment is harmed in some way due to the sexual harassment against the employee. An example of this would be where the third party did not receive a deserved promotion because an employee submitted to sexual harassment advances and was promoted instead.
What about Company Harassment Policies?
A court will be more likely to hold a company liable for hostile work environment harassment if the company fails to enact a harassment policy or enacts an ineffective policy or fails to enforce its policy. Harassment policies often are part of a company's nondiscrimination policy. See our article on Harassment in the Workplace Remedies.
On the other hand, if the company has a policy that clearly prohibits harassment, and harassment occurs but is not blatant, a victim who fails to use the internal complaint procedure may have a hard time proving that the company should have been aware of the harassment.
Should I Contact a Hostile Work Environment Attorney for Harassment at Work?
If you are being harassed at work and feel that nothing is being done about it, you should contact a harassment lawyer immediately. Harassment lawyers can help explain the law and assert your rights in court if needed.
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Last Modified: 12-06-2016 11:21 AM PST
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