It happens when a person in a position of power – the owner of a company, an executive, a supervisor or sometimes someone at a peer level, or an outside agent of the company who also holds power – will attempt to negotiate sex with an employee. The explicit or implicit message is this: “Say yes and I can help you get ahead. Say no and you will suffer for it.”
This is illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII as amended, defines sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which oversees implementation of that act, defines sexual harassment in very specific terms:
• Unwelcome advances or requests of a sexual nature.
• Verbal or physical conduct, either when the target individual submits to advances or rejects them.
• When the unwelcome advance is implied (explicitly or implicitly) to affect the target employee’s employment: this includes situations where hiring, firing, promotion (or demotion), work assignments, shift assignments, establishing performance expectations, and establishing or altering pay and benefits structure are contingent on sex.
While most often the person who is guilty of the offense acts alone, it is the employer who bears legal liability and responsibility for it. This is because in a quid prod quo situation, the supervisor’s actions are on behalf of the employer. If the employer failed to instruct managers and others on what is appropriate, inappropriate, legal and ethical, they are deemed to be complicit in the activity. The plaintiff’s case is even stronger if similar incidents of sexual harassment have occurred in the past, establishing a pattern of negligence.
What does a victim of workplace sexual harassment need to do? A personal injury lawyer with which sexual harassment lies in his area of practice would advise anyone in this situation to remain in the job as long as possible, as this provides the victim greater leverage. Also, it is far better to approach the situation with a cool demeanor, follow specific steps and weigh words carefully when speaking with the human resources department, the perpetrator or any co-workers. Key steps:
• Keep a diary of all activities around your case: what happened, what was said, how you responded, and when. Your attorney is going to need it.
• Contact a sexual harassment attorney who can provide an objective assessment of the situation, and who can coach you on how to handle key situations and meetings.
• Consult your company’s employee handbook or guidelines, which would be part of your employer’s defense (and vulnerability).
• If the sexual misconduct is ongoing, inform the person you are not interested and it is not welcome (again, in an unemotional way if possible).
• Inform the appropriate human resources representative of your concerns.
• If your employer’s HR department responds unsatisfactorily, you might contact your state or federal government agency (at the federal level, it is the EEOC).
• Continue keeping records of all activities and conversations, and follow the advice of your personal injury attorney.
It’s a tricky area, particularly if you otherwise like your job and would prefer to stay working with the same company. The law makes provisions to protect you against retaliatory actions on the part of your employer. How to manage that is also something you should discuss with your sex harassment lawyer.
R. Klettke is a freelance writer. He writes about personal injury and medical malpractice law and other matters of jurisprudence.
Important Advisory: This article is not intended to provide legal advice upon which you or anyone else should rely in making any decisions regarding the instituting or prosecuting of a legal claim. Laws and rules relating to the bringing of a claim vary widely from state to state. You should always contact a personal injury attorney to obtain information as to the rules and the laws pertaining to any claim you might have.
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Article Added on Friday, July 25, 2014
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