Topic of the Week Sexual Harassment: Legal Standards
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment: when employment decisions are based on your willingness to submit to the sexual harassment.
- Hostile work environment claims: when sexual harassment makes your workplace environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
Which laws govern sexual harassment?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that protects individuals from discrimination based upon sex. This law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment, like promotions, raises, and other job opportunities because of their sex. Courts have found that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and therefore violates the laws against sex discrimination in the workplace.
Sexual harassment as sex discrimination under Title VII is shown by proving that the harasser targeted one sex or displayed general hostility to one sex, without regard to which sex the harasser or victim are.
Some states have laws that offer employees protection against sexual harassment beyond Title VII. For more information, check out your state’s relevant laws or contact an employment lawyer in your state.
Are there different types of sexual harassment claims?
Yes, generally there are two types of sexual harassment claims:
Quid pro quo sexual harassment: when employment decisions – like promotions, assignments, or keeping your job – are based on your willingness to submit to the sexual harassment
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct of a sexual nature is quid pro quo sexual harassment when:
submission to such sexual conduct is explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or
submission or rejection of the sexual conduct is the basis for employment decisions.
Hostile work environment claims: when sexual harassment makes your workplace environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
- Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal sexual conduct is hostile environment sexual harassment when:
- the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an employee’s work performance or
- the conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
Courts consider several factors to determine whether an environment is hostile, including:
- whether the conduct was verbal, physical, or both;
- how frequently it was repeated;
- whether the conduct was hostile or patently offensive;
- whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or supervisor;
- whether others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and
- whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual
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