Sexual harassment is a type of employment discrimination consisting of unwanted sexual advances, sexual conduct, or other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature, usually at the workplace.
What Types of Behavior Are Considered Sexual Harassment?
There are many different types of behavior that may constitute sexual harassment including, but not limited to, the following:
- Deliberate touching or repeated brushing against another’s body, which does not contribute to or advance the work, service or education being conducted;
- Repeated requests for a date, pressure or demands for a date, or for sexual activity with a subordinate by a person in an authoritative position or co-worker;
- Displays through pictures or other of obscenity which do not contribute to the work, service, or education being conducted;
- Any type of communication of a sexual nature that does not contribute to or advance the work being conducted.
What Types of Sexual Harassment Exist?
There are two types of sexual harassment that are legally recognized and which a party is typically protected against. These two types of sexual harassment are:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment; and,
- Hostile environment sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee gets a promotion or gets to keep his or her position at a company based on whether the employee accepted sexual advances by another employee, typically a higher ranking employee. If the employee rejects the advances, most situations provide that the employee does not get the promotion or may lose his or her job.
An example of quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a supervisor tells an employee that they will be promoted if they performed a sexual favor. It is important to note that even if the employee submits to the sexual advance, this submission does not mean the employee is barred by making a complaint. The employee is still able to file a sexual harassment claim against the company even if the employee submitted to the advances.
Hostile environment sexual harassment exists where a co-worker or supervisor in the workplace makes sexual advances or comments to an employee that, while not affecting promotions or the future of the employee’s job, makes the workplace environment hostile and offensive. Examples of hostile environment sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Personal questions of a vulgar nature;
- Vulgarities and other offensive language;
- Physical conduct that is sexual or degrading to a reasonable person; and,
- Sexually explicit or offensive photographs or literature that is in plain site of other employees.
Am I Protected Under Sexual Harassment Laws?
Parties protected under sexual harassment laws include the following:
- Female employees harassed by male employers, supervisors, or co-workers;
- Male employees harassed by female employees, supervisors, or co-workers; and,
- Male or female employees harassed by employers, supervisors, or co-workers of the same sex as them. Same sex sexual harassment is frequently the result of the harasser’s belief that the individual does not conform to a sexual stereotype.
Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment
An employer’s liability for sexual harassment depends on a variety of circumstances within the company. Some factors that will be considered are what the harasser’s position is within the company and the kind of sexual harassment has been alleged. If sexual harassment is proved, it is possible that your employer will be liable.
However, an employer has responsibility to hold other co-workers or supervisors liable for their actions, involvement, and behavior associated with sexual harassment. It is unlawful for an employer, once informed of sexual harassment, to fail to take remedial steps.
How to File a Sexual Harassment Claim
There may be varying procedures of filing a sexual harassment claim. However, this is the most common procedure for doing so:
- First, review company policies at your workplace. Your company HR department should have a path in place to permit you to make a complaint.
- If your company does not respond to your claim, you may need to file with a government administration agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This agency will investigate your claim and will permit you to take action with your employer to provide for your remedy.
- If filing with a government agency does not resolve the situation, you may have to file a lawsuit in civil court.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment, it is important to know that investigating and proving sexual harassment can be very difficult. An employment lawyer can help you navigate the difficult road ahead by providing you with important information including statute of limitation deadlines to ensure that your claim if filed in a timely manner. Additionally, EEOC investigators are often overloaded, so an employment attorney can help you investigate your claim while you await the EEOC’s response.