Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work

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Generally, sexual harassment and discrimination is any offensive behavior. The definition of sexual harassment is triggered by practically anything that a harasser could see on the victim. But sexual harassment cases are the most common type of harassment and it usually happens at the workplace.

Workplace sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects one's employment, unreasonably interferes with one's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work.

Types of Sexual Harassment

sexual harassment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law recognizes two grounds for sexual harassment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

In quid pro quo harassment cases, the act of harassment is directly due to one’s terms and conditions or employment decisions affecting the individual.  When this happens, the subordinate has the right to take the employer to court. The company is strictly liable even if it had no knowledge of the conduct based on the doctrine of respondeat superior.

The strict liability of employers in quid pro quo legal cases of sexual harassment is based on the fact that the harasser, in making employment decisions, is acting within, at least, the apparent scope of his authority entrusted to him by the employer.

Hostile Work Environment

Often times, quid pro quo cases do not exist but the employee is subjected to repeated abuse, threatened termination or lack of advancement.  In this case, employees could still bring a case for sexual harassment citing hostile environment as a ground.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

In an early case, the court characterized a hostile environment as a "cruel trilemma" where in the victim has three options:

  1. Tolerate the Harassment
  2. Oppose the Harassment and Make the Situation Worse
  3. Quit the Job

Whatever option the victim takes constitutes a ground for legal action on his part. In pursuing an action under this ground, the victim must inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.

In either ground, sexual harassment occurs in various circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • Parties could be of the same sex
  • Victim need not be the person harassed as long as he/she is affected by the offensive conduct
  • Sexual harassment occurs without economic injury to the victim
  • The conduct of the harasser must be unwanted.

Despite perils of sexual harassment suits, many business enterprises in United States have not addressed the problem. Still, it happens.

If you feel you are being discriminated against, you should initially use any employer mechanism or grievance system available to address the issue. Engaging the services of sexual harassment attorneys is also an advantage.