Sexual Harassment Overview


Sexual harassment is any unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.

There are generally three forms of sexual harassment behavior, verbal, visual and physical. Verbal harassment includes comments about clothing, a person’s body, sexual or gender-based jokes or remarks, requesting sexual favors or repeatedly asking person out. It also includes sexual innuendos, threats, spreading rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life, or using foul and obscene language. Visual harassment can include posters, drawings or pictures, screensavers cartoons, emails or texts of a sexual nature. Physical harassment often includes sexual assault, impeding or blocking movement, inappropriate touching such as kissing, hugging, patting, stroking, or rubbing, sexual gesturing or even leering or staring.

Each of these forms of harassment and be broken down into two categories. Quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quit pro quo means “this for that.” This happens when an employer or supervisor uses job rewards or punishments to coerce an employee into a sexual relationship or sexual act. This includes offering the employee raises or promotions or threatening demotions firing or other penalties for not complying with the request. A hostile work environment occurs when an employee behavior interferes with the work performance of another or creates an intimidating or offensive workplace. This usually happens when someone makes repeated sexual comments and make another employee feel so uncomfortable their work performance suffers. Or they decline professional opportunities because it would put them in contact with the harasser.

In either type of harassment, employees only have to prove that the behavior was offensive to someone even if it was not the intended recipient. For example, Mike tells a dirty joke to Linda. Linda loves the joke and laughs. However, Michelle happens to be walking by when the joke is told. Michelle is offended by the joke. That joke could contribute to a hostile environment claim, because Michelle, who happened to be in the area finds the dirty joke offensive.

There are two conditions to determine if a company is liable. The first is whether the employer knew or should have known about the harassment. The second is whether the employer failed to take appropriate corrective action. Having policies in place and an active training program can shield employers from expensive lawsuits.

Contact us directly for a more detailed understanding on how to prevent sexual harassment issues in your workplace.
Dana Ball legal services
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