Workplace Sexual Harassment is a Serious Concern for American Workers
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace a Personal and Legal Concern
According to a 2015 survey, one in three women between the ages of 18-34 has been sexually harassed at work at some point in their career. The published figures are likely to be a low estimate. Of the women who said they’ve experienced workplace sexual harassment, less than 30 percent reported the incidents to their employers or took legal action.
The study stresses that sexual harassment in the workplace is still a problem, and has taken on new forms. In the past where harassment may have been quite aggressive, now it may be more difficult to identify. It can be passing comments in meetings or even suggestive comments on social media.
According to media sources, attorneys across the country and reports from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace harassment complaints cost employers millions of dollars in lawsuit settlement payments and judgments each year.
Joe Lyon is a highly rated Ohio lawyer representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of workplace harassment claims.
The Legal Definition of Workplace Sexual Harassment
There can be a difference between what an individual employee feels is harassment and what constitutes illegal harassment under federal, state and local laws. Merely being bothered by a supervisor or co-worker, while unfortunate, does not necessarily mean you have a legal harassment claim.
Sexual harassment can include the following:
• Requests for sexual favors
• Sexual advances
• Sexual conduct that may affect employment decisions
• Behavior sufficiently severe as to create an intimidating, hostile environment
• Harassing behavior that persists despite objection by the victim
It is important to note that by law, the victim doesn’t necessarily have to be the person being harassed; it can be anyone affected by the harassing behavior.
Also, workplace sexual harassment doesn’t preclude harassment between two people of the same gender.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
The two most common types of sexual harassment in the workplace are referred to as quid pro quo and hostile environment:
• “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an employment decision depends on whether the employee submits to conduct of a sexual nature. For example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee goes on a date with the supervisor, the employee is being subjected to sexual harassment.
• Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working environment. Some conduct can be so severe that even one incident can be basis for a legal claim of workplace sexual harassment.
Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Harassment can be most intimidating when it comes from a boss or supervisor, leaving an employee feeling trapped and vulnerable. However, the harasser can also be a co-worker or even a non-employee.
Petty insults, minor annoyances, and isolated incidents typically are not basis for legal action. To be unlawful, the conduct must create an offensive, intimidating or hostile work environment.
Common verbal harassment can include:
• Offensive jokes or insults
• Ridicule and name-calling
Though physical harassment is less common than verbal harassment, it is often more severe. Physical harassment includes:
• Other touching
Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment
- Unwanted Sexual Statements: Harassing comments may include sexual or “dirty” jokes, remarks on physical attributes, spreading sexual rumors, talking about sexual activity in front of others, or displaying and distributing sexually explicit materials. Unwanted sexual statements can be presented in person, in writing, or electronically via e-mail, blogs, or other social media.
- Unwanted Personal Attention: Unwanted attention can include letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, or pressure for unnecessary personal interaction with a sexual/romantic intent.
- Unwanted Physical or Sexual Advances: Physical harassment may include touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, touching oneself sexually for others to view, or any unwanted sexual activity.
Employer Liability for Harassment Incidents
An employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in termination, failure to promote or hire, or loss of wages.
If the supervisor’s harassment results in a hostile work environment, the employer can avoid liability only if it can prove both that they attempted to prevent and quickly correct the harassing behavior, and the harasser rejected the corrective efforts provided by the employer.
Legal Options and Compensation for Victims of Harassment
Employers have a responsibility to create a comfortable work environment, free from harassing of any nature. When an employer fails to protect workers from harassment, legal action is an option for the victims.
Some claims make their way before a jury, though out-of-court settlements often are more attractive to employers. Harassment lawsuits can be costly, so out-of-court settlements save employers the time and expense of defending their employment practices. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports thousands of charges of workplace harassment each year, and attorneys recover millions of dollars on the behalf of victims who file harassment claims.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and have questions about the legal options available, contact The Lyon Firm (800) 513-2403. You will speak directly with Mr. Lyon, and he will help you answer these critical questions.
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