"Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the [Equal Employment Opportunity] Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan." (EEOC)
Federal laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, but for many employees, it continues to be a daily occurrence: in 2012 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed more than 7,500 sexual harassment charges and collected $43 million in fines and penalties.
Would you recognize workplace sexual harassment? Five points to consider:
1. It’s not only about sex:
“Generally, ‘sexual harassment’ is: Unwelcome, offensive conduct of a sexual nature that makes someone uncomfortable or embarrassed. Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other physical or verbal conduct that enters into employment decisions and/or conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. It is also the act of persistently engaging in words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy, alarm, offend, embarrass, intimidate, demean, or verbally abuse another person.” (Akerman)
2. Not everything of a sexual nature counts:
“Over the course of a few months, and on four or so occasions, Ellis made a few comments to Westendorf regarding the size of a coworker’s breasts, women’s use of tampons, and multiple orgasms. He also told her she needed to clean the trailer while wearing a French maid’s costume and said ‘f*** you’ to her several times. […] After Westendorf complained about the behavior, she was terminated. The court held that the alleged harassment was not severe or pervasive and thus could not support a sexual harassment claim, because there were only about a half dozen incidents (of the clearly sex or gender-based comments), all involving verbal comments, over a five-month period.” (Fenwick & West)
3. It isn’t limited to working hours:
“[E]mployer liability for harassment is not limited to what takes place between employees in the workplace. Harassment can also include off-duty conduct, as well as harassment from third parties… In such circumstances, employers can be liable under common-law claims such as negligent hiring or negligent supervision.” (Pepper Hamilton)
4. Harassment by customers is illegal too:
“[O]wners of a restaurant will pay $200,000 to servers who allegedly were sexually harassed by a regular customer. According to the complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, restaurant management knew that the male customer […] harassed female servers, but failed to take any action to stop him. The customer’s harassment included making comments about the servers’ bodies, showing them pornographic images on his cell phone, propositioning them, and touching them inappropriately. Despite complaints, management allegedly failed to confront the customer about his behavior.” (Franczek Radelet)
5. An increasing number of men are victims:
“According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment filings by men have consistently increased and doubled over the last 15 years. Whether it is men bullying other men or female supervisors threatening men who work for them, it’s against the law.” (Derek T. Smith Law Group, P.C.)
The bottom line? Whatever the conduct, it’s your employer’s responsibility to make it stop, and your responsibility to report it. From the Farrise Law Firm:
“If you are the target of unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances or gender-based hostility in the workplace, you must step forward and report each instance so that your employer has the opportunity to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Your employer has a legal duty to put a stop to harassment in its tracks and to educate and train employees about appropriate workplace conduct.”
- Hostile Work Environment Refresher: What Employers Should (Still) Be Thinking About - Akerman Senterfitt
- Employee Asked To Wear French Maid’s Costume Not Sexual Harassment - Fenwick & West LLP
- Textual Harassment Could CRE8 Liability For Employers - Pepper Hamilton LLP
- Employer Settles EEOC Suit Alleging Sexual Harassment of Employees by Customer - Franczek Radelet P.C.
- Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Your Rights as an Employee - Farrise Law Firm
- Men at Work — Harassment Happens to Them, Too - Derek T. Smith Law Group, P.C.
- EEOC Sues Cal-Maine Foods for Racial and Sexual Harassment, Retaliation - U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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