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sexual harassment in the workplace

What You Should Know About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

November 7, 2019

Question: Which of the following situations constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?

  1. John A. repeatedly comments on the appearance of his co-worker, Lori C., frequently telling her how attractive she is. He has even suggested she wear shorter skirts and brighter lipstick so she will look “sexier.”
  2. Jennifer, who works with Lori and John, becomes upset and uncomfortable when she hears John talking to Lori in this manner. She is considering asking for a transfer to another department.
  3. George S., a manager, invites his new assistant for an after-work drink, to which she politely declines. He tells her she should “loosen up” because he would like to see her continue working after her 90-day probationary period is up

All of the above are examples of sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo movement has created national awareness about this egregious problem, giving new voice to victims who suffered silently for years. However, sexual harassment remains a problem in thousands of workplaces across the country.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of illegal workplace discrimination. Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act defines it as “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature…”

In addition, certain conditions must be met in order for such behavior to be considered sexual harassment:

  • Submitting to or rejecting the harasser’s demands affects the victim’s employment; including hiring, promotions or performance reviews
  • The harassment interferes with the victim’s ability to perform their job
  • The unwelcome behavior creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

Who are the victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment?

  • Victims and harassers may be male, female or transgender
  • A harasser may be the same sex as the victim
  • A victim can be a bystander who is upset by harassment directed toward someone else
  • The harasser can be anyone in the victim’s work environment
    • a supervisor
    • a co-worker
    • an employee in another department
    • a non-employee such as a client or customer

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer has a duty to protect employees from harassment by outsiders, providing they know or should know the harassment is occurring.

Additionally, while anyone can experience sexual harassment, the vast majority of situations involve males harassing females. 

How common is sexual harassment in the workplace?

According to a task force study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

  • 60% of women say they have experienced “unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments” in the workplace
  • About one-fourth of these women said the harassment involved a boss or someone in a higher-level position
  • Approximately 90% of harassment victims do not file a formal complaint
  • 75% of victims say they did not discuss their concerns with their employers

What are the main categories of sexual harassment?

The law identifies two main types of workplace sexual harassment:

“Quid pro quo” harassment

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase meaning “this for that.” This is the most overt form of sexual harassment. An example would be a supervisor who promises to promote an employee in exchange for sexual favors. Or, an employer who threatens to fire or demote a worker who refuses their advances would be guilty of quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile work environment

Hostile work environment harassment is when an employer, supervisor, or co-worker behaves in a way that makes the victim uncomfortable enough to affect their ability to work. The harasser does not have to make a specific demand for sex or sexually-related favors. Further, the harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. Offensive, stereotypical remarks relating to the victim’s gender can also create a hostile environment.

However, the victim must prove the harassment is severe and ongoing rather than a one-time incident.

“Sexual harassment can have a devastating impact on its victims. It affects a person’s physical and mental health as well as their job performance,” said Mark Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm. “If you are a victim of this insidious behavior, call us. We will help you avoid further harassment while we fight to win the compensation you deserve.”

Sexual harassment law is complicated, but finding the right lawyer is simple.

Call 1-800-CALL-SAM today for a free no-obligation consultation.

Sources:

https://www.inc.com/magazine/201804/minda-zetlin/sexual-harassment-workplace-policy-metoo.html

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-kinds-of-behaviors-are-considered-sexual-harassment.html

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm

https://www.michigan.gov/som/0,4669,7-192-47796-453848–,00.html

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