Co-Worker Sexual Harassment
Most sexual harassment claims involve a boss harassing a subordinate with threats about their job in exchange for sexual favors. However, sexual harassment does not have to involve a manager. It can consist of two co-workers. Even though a co-worker cannot exert any authority over a person, they can contribute to a hostile work environment for an unsuspecting employee. Even though the harassment may not be coming from a superior, it is still considered sexual harassment, and co-worker sexual harassment is illegal. Those who are targeted by harassers do not need to tolerate such behavior and have options they can use to improve their situation.
A person need not be a manager to be guilty of sexual harassment. A co-worker can just as easily make unwanted and inappropriate sexual comments, advances, or contact with a fellow co-worker. These actions combined can make the person feel uncomfortable or even violated even though, on their own, they are not considered sexual harassment.
They only rise to the level of sexual harassment if they are unwanted by the person the comments are directed toward. When the recipient of the comments tells the person making them to stop, they must do so immediately. If they fail to stop for whatever reason, they are violating sexual harassment laws.
Is My Boss Responsible if My Co-worker is Sexually Harassing Me?
The law is clear when it comes to a supervisor engaging in sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the mistreatment of workers in the workplace and addresses a person who has a direct impact on another person’s employment status. However, the law does not address co-workers, although there have been subsequent court cases that have addressed the issue.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Vance v. Ball State University that an employer is not directly responsible for a co-worker’s intentional independent act. The employer’s responsibility relates to actions that have to do with work. Sexual harassment takes place outside the bounds of work, according to the court.
It ruled that if an employee wanted to file a complaint against their employer, they would have to demonstrate more than just that the action was offensive and occurred at work. They should demonstrate that the employer knew the harassment was taking place or should have known and yet did nothing to protect their employee. A case filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) emphasizes this scenario.
In September 2017, the EEOC sued a coffee manufacturer, accusing it of sexual harassment and retaliating against an employee after she complained about harassment. Two weeks after the female employee started working at the Suffolk, Virginia, roasting facility, a male employee began making crude comments and gestures to her, as well as asking for sexual favors.
The employee filed three separate complaints about the harassment, and the company never responded. In fact, after the third complaint, they terminated the employee, claiming it was performance related. The EEOC disagreed, saying that the termination was retaliation against the employee for reporting the harassment.
How can a Manager Prevent Co-Worker Sexual Harassment?
Although it may not seem to be the case, a significant number of sexual harassment cases can be easily prevented through education. In many instances, the harasser does not realize that their words or actions could be construed as harmful to someone else.
As a manager, the best thing to do is educate employees about harassing behavior. To accomplish this, a manager should implement training sessions for the entire office. It is a great opportunity to explain the process that is in place to report problems with co-workers. Conducting these sessions routinely will keep everyone up to date on proper behavior and educate new employees about what is acceptable around the office.
What are Some Examples of Co-Worker Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment from a co-worker can come in a variety of forms. In certain instances, a co-worker may believe that their actions do not constitute sexual harassment because they are not directing comments to an individual person. They may also not see the harm in their actions or think that because they are not a manager, they cannot be guilty of harassment. They would be wrong. The following are examples of co-worker sexual harassment:
- Giving a co-worker a sexual gift
- Referring to a person by a demeaning pet name
- Deliberately brushing up against another person
- Dropping something and asking a co-worker to pick it up and use that as an excuse to inappropriately touch them
- Offering to provide a good recommendation in exchange for sexual favors
- Sending flirty text messages
- Complimenting a person on their appearance
- Posting sexual comments on a co-worker’s social media site
- Making demeaning comments about the opposite sex
- Discussing one’s sexual exploits in front of other co-workers
- Sexually assaulting a co-worker
An act crosses the line from harmless flirting to sexual harassment when the action becomes unwanted. A person may not know their actions are unwanted until the other person asks them to stop.
What Should I Do if I am Being Harassed by a Co-Worker?
Those who are being pestered by a co-worker with inappropriate comments, jokes, or the like should first confront the person directly about their behavior. It should not be a public display but a private conversation between two co-workers. The person should explain to the potential harasser about how their actions made them feel and why their words might have been hurtful. More likely than not, the person will stop or curtail their actions.
If the actions continue, the employee should then speak with either a manager or a representative in human resources (HR). The employee should explain what took place and provide a resolution. They could also suggest a workshop for employees, if one is not available, providing training about sexual harassment.
If the company is not helpful, or the employee who filed the complaint becomes the subject of retaliation, they should then take their case outside the company. They can file a federal case with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). In addition to filing a case with a government agency, an employee also has a right to file a lawsuit against the company to recoup damages or advocate for changes. Throughout the process, the employee should hire a sexual harassment lawyer who knows these procedures and how best to approach them.
What Should I Remember When Dealing with Sexual Harassment?
It is important to realize that a co-worker cannot get away with making another co-worker feel uncomfortable. Everyone should be allowed to work in the same environment without fear of ridicule or inappropriate behavior. There are things that harassed co-workers should do immediately after they are facing sexual harassment. Those steps are as follows:
- Hire a lawyer: Before taking any actions, an employee should consult with a sexual harassment lawyer who knows the law and how best to handle these situations.
- Do not quit the job: The person facing harassment should not be the one who loses their job. It is best to consult with a lawyer before taking such drastic actions.
- File a complaint: An employee should file a formal written complaint with HR, explaining what happened and detailing the resolution they expect the company to reach. The employee should keep a copy of the report for their own records.
- Gather evidence: The employee who plans to file a complaint should begin gathering evidence as soon as possible. This includes meticulous notes of instances of harassment, as well as witness statements and contacts, along with any hard evidence, such as emails or inappropriate pictures left in a common area or personal workspace.
- Move quickly: Although these events could be troubling, an employee might not have a significant amount of time to take legal action. There are certain statutes of limitations in place on filing a complaint. For instance, there is a 180-day limit on when a person must file a complaint with the EEOC and a 300 day-limit to file a case in Pennsylvania.
What Compensation can I Receive in a Sexual Harassment Case?
When an employee files a lawsuit against a company because of their lack of action in a co-worker sexual harassment case, they can seek monetary and non-monetary rewards. Among the items they can seek include the following:
- Lost wages: The persistent harassment by a co-worker may force an employee to quit their job or stay home more than they have vacation days, meaning they lose out on wages. They could have also been terminated by the company in retaliation for filing a complaint. They can seek those lost wages as part of a lawsuit.
- Medical expenses: Having to endure endless harassment from a co-worker can be trying on a person’s nerves and emotional state. Those problems can lead to chronic health issues and other injures that will require medical treatment. Those services cost money, which can be recouped as part of a lawsuit.
- Emotional distress: The ordeal of having to deal with a harassing co-worker every day can be emotionally difficult. An employee can seek compensation for emotional distress.
- Pain and suffering: As emotional trauma can come with harassment, so can pain and suffering. An employee can seek a bulk sum to compensate that problem as well.
- Reinstatement: One potential consequence of filing a complaint is the employee could face retaliation from the company in the form of termination, lost hours, or unfavorable work projects. They can seek to have those privileges reinstated through a lawsuit.
- Non-monetary requests: If conditions in the office appeared to favor harassers, a lawsuit can seek to mandate changes take place at that company. It could push for implementing mandatory training or a system to report future problems.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Work with Those Facing Co-Worker Sexual Harassment
Having to deal with a co-worker sexual harassing you can be traumatizing and debilitating. It can be scary and intimidating to go against your company and a co-worker, especially if the person is well liked. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. can guide you through the process and help you every step of the way until you get the result that is right for you. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and South Jersey, as well as New York.