Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is prohibited by federal law in all U.S. workplaces with over fifteen employees. Many state laws further reduce the size of companies that must adhere to sexual harassment regulations. Suits for damages resulted from sexual harassment may, and often are, brought against employers. While your company is liable only for the managerial behavior regarding discrimination practice, in the case of sexual harassment you are responsible for the actions of all employees.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment can take two forms: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment.

Quid Pro Quo: A readily identifiable and common form of sexual harassment is what is referred to as “quid-pro-quo” harassment, which translated means “this for that.” Typically, this form of harassment consists of a supervisor who directly or indirectly offers or denies employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors. What makes “quid-pro-quo” harassment unique is the nature of the scenario. By definition, the harasser is a supervisor or a person with authority who offers a subordinate favorable employment conditions in exchange for sexual favors. Moreover, the harasser does not need to make explicit sexual requests for the action to be regarded as sexual harassment. It is enough if a victim has a reasonable fear that a harasser’s unwelcome advances, if rejected, will undermine his/her career.

Hostile Enviornment: A hostile work environment is one created by sexual behavior in the workplace that is offensive, hostile, and/or intimidating and adversely affects an employee’s ability to do his/her job. Examples may include pervasive sexual comments, pin-up posters, and jokes that continue though employees may have indicated that those behaviors are unwelcome. A hostile environment can exist even though an employee may not be the direct recipient of sexually abusive behavior.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.