Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment have been in place for a very long time, surprisingly, it still is an extensive problem in the modern workplace.
The laws barring sexual harassment are the same whether the workplace is a factory floor, an automotive repair shop, or a professional office. The law defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome” conduct that an employee is subjected to “because of the employee’s sex.” Conduct can be either verbal or physical, and can include such things as sexual comments, explicit pictures, offers to exchange job advancement or increased compensation for sexual favors, inappropriate touching, dirty jokes, leering or ogling, lewd gestures, and many other behaviors.
To be illegal, the conduct must amount to more than simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not very serious. On the other hand, a single instance of very serious conduct may be the basis for a claim.
The courts have made clear that sexual harassment can occur even between people of the same gender. This is a relatively recent development that continues to evolve, and one that particularly requires expert legal advice.
As of June 2020, it also is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to harass employees because of their homosexuality or gender identity. For more on this topic, please see the LGBTQ Employment Rights page on this website. This emerging area of the law creates new rights and obligations for employers and employees alike.
An employee must comply with an employer’s policy for reporting sexual harassment. Failure to do so makes it difficult for an employee to prove that the employer knew about the harasser and should be held liable for his/her actions. Once an employer becomes aware of harassment, it must take prompt and appropriate corrective action. If it doesn’t act quickly to correct the situation, the employer increases the chance that it will be held accountable for the harasser’s deeds.
Of course, it is tremendously important that employers have effective, written sexual harassment policies in place. In fact, an employer may avoid liability for harassment that does not involve an adverse employment action (for example, termination or demotion) if the employer can demonstrate: (1) it took reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment in the workplace, and (2) the complaining employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s preventive or corrective measures. The Pundzak Office can help draft an anti-harassment policy that will give employers the benefit of this affirmative defense.
The Pundzak Law Office has the experience and expertise to help both employers and employees deal with these complicated and often very emotional issues. Call Lynn Pundzak at 513-564-9999.