What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Sexual harassment may occur when there are unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other unlawful verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This is conduct that interferes with an individual`s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

My Boss Keeps Making Sexual Comments To Me That I Find Offensive? Do I Have Any Legal Rights?

Yes, you do. Now, there are various steps one can take to end sexual harassment using the legal system. However, these are generally considered only as a last resort. The first step is for the aggrieved party to talk to the person involved and tell them directly how the behavior is affecting them. It is also good practice to report the unreasonable behavior to others. Some organizations have created their own policy and procedure to prevent incidents of sexual harassment from escalating. Complaints can be filed with the EEOC or under state law with the Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEP). A private law suit or tort lawsuit can also be filed.

What is a Hostile Work Environment And Sexual Harassment?

Firstly, note that a hostile work environment is often misquoted and wrongly cited by many an employee who feels agrieved or mistreated in some way. A hostile work enviornment is a legal term of art with certain requirements. A hostile work environment and sexual harassment occurs when there is conduct that creates an offensive or hostile working environment. Such conduct includes unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of interfering with an employee`s work performance or creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment.

In order to determine if a work environment is hostile to support a claim of sexual harassment, the courts have developed the use a reasonable person standard. The Ninth Circuit has interpreted this to be the perspective of a reasonable woman. 

[In other employments discrimination cases, for a hostile work environment to be determined, the complaining employee must be a member of a protected class - like a minority, over the age of 40 or some other designation.]

What is the Liability To Employers For Sexual Harassment?

The employer is not always strictly liable for sexual harassment by its supervisors and employees. Nevertheless, under the quid pro quo theory, an employer is strictly liable for conduct of its supervisors who have authority over hiring, advancement, dismissal, and discipline. Under the hostile work environment theory, an employer is only liable for conduct of its supervisors if the act took place in the scope of the supervisor`s employment.

This requires an examination of factors such as when and where the act took place, and whether it was foreseeable. Under either theory, an employer can be held liable for non­supervisory employees if the employer knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take corrective action within a reasonable time period. An employer will be held liable for retaliatory action against an employee if it takes such action because of a complaint of sexual harassment.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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