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What can recent events teach us about sexual harassment? Minimize the chances of being victimized

In recent months, news related to sexual harassment in the workplace has appeared on the front page of every major newspaper and at the top of the hour on every major television news program in America. Sadly, the current rush of coverage has been largely without context or depth. Widespread media attention has failed to illuminate much, if any, information about what types of misconduct actually constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. In an effort to shed the necessary light on the issue, let’s examine what actions the courts have found to amount to actionable sexual harassment.

The courts have defined two forms of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo harassment” and “harassment in a hostile environment”. “Quid pro quo” is the Latin phrase “this for that.” In a “traditional” quid pro quo case, a supervisor conditions the future or continuation of a subordinate’s employment and / or other potential financial benefits related to employment (eg, promotions, raises, bonuses, vacations) upon her consent. have sex with him and / or provide him with sexual favors in another way.

By comparison, harassment in hostile environments does not necessarily involve extortion of employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors. As the category description suggests, with this type of harassment, a supervisor or coworker engages in conduct that makes the workplace unbearably toxic to the victim. This type of abuse can range from repeated verbal teasing to physical assaults.

You should be aware that complaints of sexual harassment in hostile settings do not require the harasser to express a sexual attraction or romantic interest in the victim. As in analogous cases involving racial or religious harassment, the law protects employees from having their work environment adversely affected as a result of comments or conduct based on gender considerations. Whether the stalker is or was sexually attracted to the victim is not a determining factor. The most prominent questions are (1) whether the harasser has made the environment so toxic that a “reasonable person” would find it offensive and (2) whether the harassment arose out of hateful gender-based considerations.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, a company remains strictly liable for proven quid pro quo harassment perpetrated by its managers. Thus, if a victimized employee can establish by a preponderance of direct or circumstantial evidence that her supervisor subjected her to quid pro quo harassment, then the employer bears the lion’s share of the financial damages awarded.

In contrast, an aggrieved worker who complains of harassment in a hostile environment under Title VII must preliminarily inform management that their supervisor and / or co-worker have subjected them to a hostile work environment. If the harassment does not involve a tangible employment action, then the affected employee must essentially demonstrate that they notified management of the harassment and that despite such notification the harassment continued. An employee who does not unreasonably file an internal complaint with management will likely be prevented from proceeding with a hostile environment claim in court. Consequently, as a general matter, a successful complainant pursuing a cause of action in a hostile environment must have evidence that (1) the underlying, reported harassment actually took place, and (2) even notified their employer of the hostile environment. continued abusive behavior.

Published indictments filed by subordinates against candidates for the United States Supreme Court and the United States Presidency may offer critical insight into the candidates’ respective suitability (or lack thereof) for high office. While their stories are therefore of national importance, the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace remains an even more important national problem. Sexual harassment can and does affect women workers at all economic levels, from minimum wage to “seven figures.” (While higher earnings undoubtedly provide a greater measure of protection against such abuse, they do not invariably protect workers at the higher end of the economic ladder.)

Over the past 15 years, women have filed eleven to sixteen thousand complaints of sexual harassment annually with the EEOC and state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies (“FEPA”). For each of these complaints, dozens, if not hundreds, of women suffer similar abuses at work, but do not file administrative or judicial complaints. According to a November 15 Washington Post-ABC News poll, twenty-four percent of women surveyed reported that they had been personally harassed at work, and nearly two-thirds of all respondents concluded that sexual harassment at the workplace work is a continuing problem in this country.

If you are faced with a situation involving quid pro quo and / or harassment in a hostile environment, you can take steps to better navigate through harmful landmines on the job. As an initial matter, you should report the harassment to the appropriate administrative officials at your workplace as soon as possible. If you first inform this manager of your situation orally, then you want to continue this discussion with a written summary that you will ensure that you receive. (Don’t just rely on email. In addition to emails being deleted or lost, it’s too easy to deny receiving or reading an email. Give a hard copy.) On a related note, if the If the situation is serious and / or continues unabated, you want to immediately consult an attorney and / or contact the EEOC or FEPA.

Soon after filing your complaint, you should be prepared to meet with management to discuss your situation. You should not refuse to participate in such a meeting, even if it has the prospect of being unpleasant. You should do everything within reason to allow your business an opportunity to rectify this situation as much as possible. Also, you should be aware that you cannot dictate the terms of how the employer addresses your complaint (for example, termination of the alleged harasser). However, if your employer is not being responsive enough (that is, taking steps to stop the harassment), you can raise your inappropriate response with your attorney and / or the EEOC or FEPA.

Keep a private journal or journal that describes what the harasser says or does and what management does in response to your complaint. Also, if there are written materials or other documents (eg, sexual emails, pornographic photographs) disseminated as part of the underlying harassment, you should endeavor to obtain copies of these materials and keep a copy at home. Notes and documents can be particularly helpful to you and your attorney if your matter has to proceed to court.

You should also prepare for the possibility of management “spinning the wagons” after receiving your report of harassment. Don’t expect sympathy or compassion from your colleagues, regardless of how long or how well you’ve worked with them in the past. If your supervisors and / or co-workers respond with understanding, you should consider their reactions to your advantage! Seek emotional support from your network of friends and family outside of the workplace. Don’t expect to receive it at work.

Finally, you must operate at work as “Caesar’s wife.” After you have made a complaint, you want to do everything by the rules. It doesn’t matter if a laissez faire attitude permeated your workplace beforehand. For example, if work officially starts at 9:00 a.m. M., You should do everything in your power to be at your desk or station by 8:50 a.m. M. Ready to work every day. You want to live so your performance is so flawless that no one in management can “legitimately” cite you as a basis for retaliating against you. In short, you should do everything you can to ensure that you do not give the company “ammunition to shoot” after you have filed your sexual harassment complaint.

Hopefully, neither you nor your loved ones will have to endure serious sexual harassment at work. However, if you come across this abuse, you can take steps to improve the situation and find a solution. Don’t accept abuse. Do not give up. You deserve equal opportunity and a harassment-free work environment.

Similarly, if you have encountered other difficulties in the workplace, you can also effectively seek justice. You don’t have to endure abuse in silence. You have rights!

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