What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome offensive sexual advances, communication, or conduct in the workplace. Sexual harassment violates the law. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There are two types of situations where sexual harassment in the workplace becomes actionable – when it creates a hostile work environment and when a “quid pro quo” arrangement arises due to the sexual advances of a supervisor or other person in a position of power over the employee.

What is hostile work environment sexual harassment?

Hostile work environment sexual harassment involves speech or conduct that is severe enough to result in an intimidating or demeaning workplace, in turn affecting an employee’s job in a negative way. Hostile work environment sexual harassment can result from communication or conduct on the part of a supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, or non-employee (such as a customer or client).

A victim of sexual harassment can be the employee to whom the conduct or communication is directed or another person who is impacted by the offensive communication or conduct. For example, inappropriate and unwelcome touching, as well as pictures, jokes, or comments about sexual behavior can create a hostile work environment. The victims would include the recipient of such offensive communications or conduct and other people who witness such behavior or communications or are otherwise exposed to it. Inappropriate communications or conduct that are unlawful cause a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person.

Unwelcome sexual communications or conduct violate the law if tolerating them becomes a term or condition of employment. This occurs, for example, when employees routinely share inappropriate photos in the workplace and the employer permits this to continue – and tells anyone who is offended that he or she can either ignore the photos or quit.

What is quid pro quo sexual harassment?

Quid pro quo means “something for something” or “this for that.”

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor offers some type of benefit such as a raise or promotion in exchange for sexual acts from the employee.

Quid pro quo also occurs when an employer or supervisor threatens negative employment action such as a demotion, loss of job, or negative review unless the employee submits to unwanted sexual acts.

Sometimes these coerced or forced sexual acts referred to as sexual “favors” but that term can be misleading as it implies some level of consent, as in doing a favor for someone in exchange for something you want. There is no consent on the employee’s part if the employee is forced to choose between his or her job and submitting to sexual abuse.

What should you do if you are a victim of sexual harassment?

If possible, an employee who feels he or she is a victim of sexual harassment should tell the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and tell the harasser to stop the unwelcome conduct. The employee should also report the conduct through the complaint or grievance method available through the employer.

Employers sometimes attempt to escape liability for sexual harassment by claiming the employee did not report sexual harassment according to the employer’s sexual harassment procedures and policies. However, sometimes those procedures are poorly communicated, ineffective, or fail to protect the employee or stop the harassment. It is not the employee’s responsibility to prevent sexual harassment on the job or to remedy it. It is the employer’s duty and responsibility to provide a harassment-free workplace and to institute effective procedures and policies to prevent and counter sexual harassment.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should contact an experienced employment attorney to discuss your rights. Murphy Law Group focuses exclusively on employment law. Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.