Topic of the Week Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Sexual harassment can be unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment. These acts can also rise to the level of sexual harassment when they unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work performance or create a hostile or offensive work environment.
Q: What kind of behavior could be considered sexual harassment?
A: What constitutes sexual harassment can vary depending on the situation and people involved. Sexual harassment might include unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Direct or indirect threats or bribes for sexual activity may be sexual harassment. Sexual innuendos and comments, or sexually suggestive jokes may be sexual harassment in some contexts. Unwelcome touching or brushing against a person, or displays of explicit material may be sexual harassment. Finally, attempted or completed sexual assault would be sexual harassment.
Q: I was harassed by my boss. Is the company legally responsible?
A: An employer is always legally responsible for harassment by a supervisor that culminates in a tangible employment action. The company cannot avoid legal liability on the basis that you did not complain about the harassment or because it took other steps designed to discourage workplace harassment. The Supreme Court recognized that this result is appropriate because an employer acts through its supervisors, and a supervisor's undertaking of a tangible employment action is equivalent to an act of the employer.