Sexual harassment is discrimination based on sex that takes place in a work environment. It refers to unwanted advances with sexual undertones, solicitation of sexual favors, and other forms of sexual abuse both verbal and physical.
Sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law enacted to protect employees from discrimination based on sex. The Act deems it unlawful for employers to hire, fire, promote, and dish out work-related opportunities based on sex. In Ohio, the State law also prohibits any form of discrimination based on sex, color, among other parameters.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
What may be considered sexual harassment may vary depending on the persons involved and the situation. For instance, sexual jokes might be regarded as sexual harassment in one context and not in other contexts. Asking for sexual favors may also be friendly banter in one context but considered sexual harassment in different contexts.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission defines the parameters of conduct that constitutes sexual harassment to include the following;
- When sexual favor is a condition for employment
- When submission to sexual subjugation forms a rationale for work-related decisions
- When the harassment interferes with performance in the workplace
- When harassment creates a hostile work environment
Who Can be a Victim of Sexual Harassment
Any person can fall victim to sexual harassment. A male or female can both be a harasser and victim. It is also important to note that both the victim and harasser can be of the same gender. Noteworthy, a victim of sexual harassment does not necessarily have to be the one directly facing the ordeal.
Anyone affected by the unwelcome advances and conduct is also considered a victim. The harasser can be anyone from a direct supervisor, a co-worker, or even a client.
That notwithstanding, women suffer the brunt of sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a 2018 study by Mckinsey, 35% of women report experiencing various forms of sexual harassment in their careers. By comparison, only 16% of men had a sexual harassment experience at the workplace.
Types of Harassment Claims
Sexual harassment claims fall into two categories; the Quid Pro Quo and the Hostile Work Environment claim.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a person in authority solicits sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for a work-related benefit or opportunity. The favor may also be sought to forestall an adverse work decision such as a suspension or a dismissal. Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment is illegal even if the victim plays ball after initial unwelcomed advances.
Hostile work environment claim becomes tenable when the work environment becomes pervasively intimidating, hostile, or offensive. The environment is hostile if it interferes with work performance by employees.
Liability for Sexual Harassment
The employer is responsible for sexual harassment that takes place in the workplace. The Supreme Court decision that supervisors act on behalf of employers puts the latter at the center of harassment claims.
Enforcement of the Law
A Federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has the legal mandate to receive complaints and investigate sexual harassment claims in workplaces. In Ohio, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission receives discrimination claims within the State.
Sexual harassment is rampant in most workplaces with countless silent victims feeling embarrassed to come out. However, this is changing on the back of successful litigation and campaigns such as the #MeToo movement.
The burden of proof in a sexual harassment litigation is upon the victim, therefore retaining the services of an experienced attorney is crucial for success. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or know someone who has, get in touch with us for the best legal representation.