Understanding Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone. While women are usually the complainants, men can also be victims of male discrimination. Although sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, it is more common at the workplace.

Also, more often but not always, the harasser is in a position of power or authority over the victim. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that the harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

So what is sexual harassment? Does physical contact have to be involved for it to be considered sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Different Forms of Sexual Harassment

Courts have recognized different forms of sexual harassment cases in workplace scenarios. In "quid pro quo" cases, employers condition employment benefits on sexual favors. In sexual harassment hostile work environment cases, employees work in offensive or abusive environments.

  • Quid Pro Quo Harassment - "Something for something" or "you do something for me and I'll do something for you"
  • For example, the manager would promise an employee a raise or a promotion if she will sleep or go out on a date with him. Threatening a worker with termination for sexual favor is also an example.
  • There is usually a benefit or threat involved in exchange for compliance.
  • Quid pro quo harassment is equally unlawful whether the victim resists and suffers the threatened harm or submits and thus avoids the threatened harm.
  • Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment - This occurs when an employee is subjected to a sexualized environment.
  • Obscenities, comments and jokes of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, viewing Internet pornography can create an offensive or hostile environment sexual harassment.
  • A single isolated incident will not be considered hostile environment harassment unless it is an extremely outrageous and egregious conduct.
  • Supervisors, managers, co-workers and even customers can be held responsible for creating a hostile environment.

If you or a friend is a victim of sexual harassment employment, the EEOC says that is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome. The harasser accused of sexual harassment must be told to stop his conduct or actions. The victim may also use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

Some Stats on Sexual Harassment

In a 2008 sexual harassment survey, there were 13,867 charges of sexual harassment filed by the EEOC. 15.9% of those charges were filed by men. $47.4 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation) were recovered in 2008.

More info from Rodney Mesriani: Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer

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