Feeling Threatened by a Co-worker’s Sexual Harassment? You May Have a Case

June 5, 2019

Sexual Harassment is a rising issue in today’s workplace.. The purpose of this post is to provide important information to employees regarding sexual harassment and what steps they can take to address these issues.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

The EEOC goes on to state, “Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.”

“Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). “

See: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm

When is an Employer Liable

An often discussed topic when it comes to sexual harassment is determining who should be held liable for sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, an employer can be held liable for the acts of any of its employees. Whether an employee is being harassed by their co-worker or supervisor, an employer has a duty to their employees to ensure a safe working environment.

Furthermore, even if the harasser is a customer or a client of the business, the employer may be held liable if they were aware of the harassment and failed to take action to prevent it from continuing.

How is a Supervisor Defined

A common issue in workplace harassment suits is determining whether or not someone is a ‘supervisor’ for the purposes of holding an employer liable. According to the EEOC, there are two ways in which an individual will be recognized as a supervisor.

First, even if a person is not formally recognized as a supervisor by job title, the person has the authority to make tangible employment condition.  Second, is when that person has the authority to control an employee’s daily duties and tasks. In some situations an individual is not officially recognized as a supervisor, but has the ability to make supervisory decisions that affect an employees daily work experience.

Co-Worker Harassment

Similarly, a co-worker, who is not in a supervisory position, can be the source of sexual harassment. Anti-harassment law protects  employees from this as well, though the circumstances are slightly different. When a co-worker is the source of sexual harassment in the work place, the employer can be held liable for failingly to prevent a hostile work environment.

An employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent a hostile work environment as soon as they become aware of it. Making unwanted sexual contact, asking for sexual favors or making unwanted comments are all examples conduct that can create a hostile work environment.  If an employer becomes aware that these things are happening they have duty to take meaningful action to ensure it stops.

What if Harassment Takes Place Outside of the Work Place

The same laws and regulations apply to sexual harassment by a co-worker or supervisor, regardless if the harassing acts take place outside the normal office environment. For example, if an individual you work with makes unwanted sexual advances or repeats offensive remarks at a business trip or office outing, the same rules apply.

Sexual Harassment From Your Employer’s Customers or Clients

Third-party harassment is a form of harassment that occurs when someone other than someone you work for or with is the source of unwanted harassing behavior. The requirement that your employer ensure a discrimination and harassment-free work environment is a broad one that the law takes very seriously. An employer that has knowledge or should have knowledge of a hostile work environment that is created as a result of a customers or clients actions, could equally be held liable for allowing that environment to continue without taking reasonably preventative measures. An employer cannot turn a blind eye to such inappropriate conditions and expect to not be liable.

What Next?

If an employee feels that they are being subjected to any form of sexual harassment in the workplace then they should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing sexual harassment are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice.  Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.