Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination that’s characterized by any type of unwanted, repeated sexual advance, comment, or deliberate gesture. Hostile environment sexual harassment creates an abusive work environment. This environment is so destructive that it impedes workers from doing their job. Sometimes, the harassment can still affect workers even out of the office.
About Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
This type of harassment involves several instances of a co-worker, supervisor, or third-party making inappropriate, repeated, and unwanted sexual advances, comments, or requests. Examples can be repeated and unwelcome sexual advances, sexual and distasteful jokes, or purposely blocking an employee in a small space.
Unlike other forms of harassment, hostile work environment sexual harassment rarely happens once. Most of the time, it is repetitious. This is because the hostile harassment occurs after the victim repeatedly asks the harasser to stop. Also, a single event isn’t as easy to prove in court. It has to be severe enough to cause distress. For example, a single event of extreme sexual misconduct like groping or fondling would still constitute as hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Examples of hostile environment sexual harassment include:
- Repetitious telling of dirty jokes or sexual anecdotes
- Drawings, images, statues, pictures, dolls, or icons that are of a sexual nature or undertone
- Written communications such as memos or emails that are sexual in nature
- The use of insults or derogatory remarks that are sexual in nature; and/or
- Repeated behavior that is inappropriate, such as touching, rubbing, or groping. This sexually-oriented behavior is not welcomed or done with permission, or, it is consented to, but it creates a hostile work environment for others.
In some instances, hostile work environment sexual harassment victims aren’t directly involved in the incident. When other people comment or interact with the victim to the effect of making him or her feel uncomfortable, this contributes to the hostile atmosphere. A claim can still be made as long as someone with the same personal characteristics, such as race, age, or gender, would also consider it sexual harassment.
Another type but less frequently found is favoritism. This may seem like quid pro quo sexual harassment, however, there needs to be a pattern of sexual favoritism. This pattern must cause the victim to feel that giving in is the only way to avoid a hostile environment.
Hostile Work Place Environment Liability
Liability can be a difficult question. However, when there is evidence that the employer knew of harassment between two same level employees and did nothing, then the employer is liable. Also, if a supervisor is responsible for the harassment, then the company is liable. This is because the supervisor is an acting agent for the company.
Taking a Claim to Court
If the sexual harassment does not stop even with or without employer methods, the victim can take the case to court. The court will determine if the circumstances warrant an unlawful hostile work situation.
The court will look for:
- Offensive behavior that created an abusive work environment
- The frequency of the behavior
- Work performance since the behavior started
- The intimidating, threatening, or humiliating nature of the behavior
To gauge this, the court will look at the behavior through the eyes of someone with the same characteristics of the victim. Also, it helps the case if the employer did not help to stop the harassment. If you win your case, the court may give you a number of damages including punitive and compensatory. Compensatory include back pay, pain and suffering, medical expenses, or future economic loss.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in any form in the workplace, you should contact a qualified employment attorney. You should do this right away since time is of the essence. If the harassment has not stopped after making a formal complaint with your employer, consulting a harassment lawyer is your best option. Your attorney will be able to provide further guidance, help you file a claim with the EEOC, and help you build a case that will put an end to what you have experienced.