Every employee has the right to a harassment-free work environment. Workplace sexual harassment is prohibited on both the federal and state level by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as state criminal codes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of sexual harassment encompasses any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance, implicitly or explicitly impacts employment decisions, or creates a hostile work environment.
At Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., our sexual harassment lawyers know that no one should be forced to tolerate this behavior in the workplace. We want workers to understand their rights when it comes to sexual harassment and we will investigate every case thoroughly to help victims recover from what was a terrible ordeal.
How Does Sexual Harassment Manifest?
One important factor in sexual harassment cases is how the harassment began. Anyone who has been harassed at work may feel that they do not have a solid complaint because they are in the wrong situation. The following merit reason to file a complaint:
Harassment Outside a Department: Harassment can begin with anyone in the office. This person might work in another department or even be a boss. Their advances, however, may sound similar to harassment that comes from a supervisor or manager. If someone entices a worker to move to a different division, they might try to trade sexual favors for the new position.
Subordinates: If a subordinate conducts harassing behavior, a worker may feel forced to keep these workers due to a manager’s orders above them. They may also feel guilty because they originally hired this person. No one should suffer harassment at work simply because they feel guilty over hiring a sexually abusive individual.
Harassment from Colleagues: Victims might work in an office with someone in a lateral position who harasses or constantly attempts unwanted sexual advances. The victim might get a new job, seek a promotion, or change departments just to get away from the harassment. Regardless, the case should be investigated.
Same-Sex Harassment: Victims can be harassed by someone of the same sex and may feel as though it is almost discriminatory to file a complaint against them. These types of cases are not often mentioned in the media. That person, however, may have impacted one’s career given the level of harassment experienced.
Outside Contractors: Outside contractors may not be in an office often, but it can still be difficult to avoid this person. While an employer may not be directly responsible for the harassment, victims should file a complaint to be disciplined by their employer.
Harassment While Traveling for Work: Sexual harassment may also occur while one is traveling for work. This is a common occurrence because the harasser is not in an office where they can be seen. The trip might include working lunches and dinners where alcohol is present. While drinking alcohol off the clock does not make sexual harassment right, it can be used against the victim. A harasser might relay to everyone a different version of what occurred. While this can be a terrifying situation, try to find people who can corroborate that the harassment occurred in public. Report the harassment or speak to an attorney, even while away on business.
How Do I Recognize Sexual Harassment?
As mentioned, sexual harassment can take many forms and can be experienced by employees of either gender. An employee may be harassed by their supervisor, a manager from another department, a co-worker, an outside contractor, or even a non-employee on the work premises. Victims should also be aware of sexual harassment behaviors, even if they are not the target. The person who is suffering from sexual harassment may need help. The following behaviors are considered inappropriate and have no place at work under federal law:
- Lewd remarks, nicknames, or insults
- Sexual propositions impacting employment
- Unwanted sexual or romantic attention
- Leering, whistling, or suggestive gestures
- Displaying or sending pornographic or sexual content
- Unwelcome contact during the workday
- Coerced sexual acts that directly impact employment
Sexual harassment complaints typically fall into one of two categories; the first being quid pro quo, which occurs when a supervisor implicitly or explicitly communicates that a worker’s employment status, pay, promotion, or other employment benefits are contingent on the exchange of sexual favors. The supervisor is essentially threatening the employee with adverse employment consequences, such as a poor review, demotion, or termination if the employee does not engage in a sexual relationship.
The second is a hostile work environment that makes the employee feel uncomfortable. Even if the sexual harassment is not aimed at one person specifically, they may feel uncomfortable knowing that other colleagues or superiors will continue to sexually harass employees, whether it be in the open or behind closed doors. If a victim fears retaliation, reach out to our sexual harassment lawyers for assistance.
What Constitutes Quid Pro Quo?
Quid pro quo complaints are usually made if the harasser has authority over the employee’s employment conditions. If the harasser is a co-worker who cannot implement change to the victim’s pay rate or employment status, he or she may be creating a hostile work environment, but it would not be considered quid pro quo.
There are times when quid pro quo might include someone at the office who says they can help a worker get ahead, give them more clients, or do something that will improve their career if they simply submit to their sexual advances. This person is using their influence to get what they want. This is still considered sexual harassment, even if it did not come from a superior.
Quid pro quo may also occur outside the office. Victims may be on a work trip with their supervisor the first time they suggest sexual favors to keep a job, receive a promotion, or the training needed. The same thing could happen at a work luncheon/dinner, where a victim may be approached by a supervisor outside the office in a non-work-related capacity. If a supervisor is wielding their authority to gain sexual attention or favors, they are committing quid pro quo.
Victims may be aware of an exciting work opportunity within the company, but they need to contact another supervisor to transfer or apply for the promotion. If the supervisor in that department suggests sexual favors for a promotion or uses lewd remarks during initial meetings, report that person for sexual harassment.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
Our lawyers fight for those facing retaliation in the workplace. A hostile work environment is the second type of sexual harassment complaint. When an employee is subjected to sexual, abusive, or offensive behavior because of his or her gender, this is a form of discrimination and a violation of federal and state law. A hostile work environment can occur anywhere, no matter how minor the harassment is perceived to be.
Offensive behavior can be verbal or physical and does not need to be directed at a particular employee. If the behavior is severe enough to change or alter the working conditions for employees of a certain gender, or in any way interferes with an employee’s ability to perform work functions, that behavior is considered unlawful. Employers have a responsibility to stop this behavior when it occurs, and an employee can file a complaint if they fail to do so.
Certain sexual harassment claims start small with text or emails that include lewd or suggestive content. Victims should save these messages and report the harassment at once. If a victim works for someone who sends suggestive or pornographic emails or texts to co-workers, they can report the harassment if it makes them uncomfortable.
A hostile work environment may not involve sexual harassment that targets a specific person. However, victims may feel deeply uncomfortable going to work knowing how certain people are treated. This level of discomfort constitutes a hostile work environment that should not be tolerated. Victims may be afraid to take certain positions within a company due to the harassment that occurs in that department.
A contractor that works with a company might use lewd remarks or gestures when they come to the office. They might send suggestive messages or initiate unwanted contact while they are in the office. Even though this person does not work for the company, they still create a hostile work environment when they are there. The same could be true if that contractor tried to solicit a worker outside the office.
A hostile work environment also includes any insinuation that a victim should not report sexual harassment claims because they will not be believed. Victims may work with people who give them friendly advice because they fear retaliation. Because the harassment is creating a hostile work environment, victims have a right to file a complaint and should not feel forced to fight their harasser alone.
How Should My Employer Investigate Sexual Harassment?
When investigating claims of a hostile work environment, the EEOC considers several factors, including:
- The nature of the harassment: While some harassment cases are worse than others, that does not make minor harassment right. The nature of the harassment simply paints a picture of how the harassment was perpetrated.
- How often the harassment occurred: Harassment may have been so frequent that the victim did not want to go to work, or it may have been spread out over a long period of time because the problem was never addressed.
- How management responded to the harassment: Management should swiftly begin an investigation, remove the harasser from the situation if necessary, and ask for an impartial investigation from the human resources department.
- Any documented harassment: If a victim documented the harassment, it is much easier to prove and/or corroborate.
- Witness interviews: Witnesses can help corroborate a testimony, especially when victims know people have seen it.
Each situation is unique and must be considered from the perspective of a reasonable person in the victim’s position. An employee does not need to suffer any negative employment consequences, such as termination or demotion, in order to bring a sexual harassment claim. Victims are protected from retaliation in the workplace if they file a sexual harassment complaint against another employee.
It is vital for victims to document all instances of sexual harassment. An employer has a duty to open an unbiased investigation into each complaint, and that investigation should include an interview that in no way shames the victim for the harassment or how it makes them feel. Employers may want the victim to admit that the harassment was a misunderstanding, or they may tell them that is how the industry works. Victims do not need to continue with such an interview, and they can reach out to us for help. Provide any documentation of the harassment when contacting our office.
A supervisor cannot write off any sexual harassment claims because they do not believe them, and victims have every right to take their complaint up the chain of command, if necessary. Conversations should be kept confidential. If conversations with human resources were not kept confidential, victims may be subjected to an even more hostile work environment. If an employer cannot guarantee confidentiality, reach out to us. Victims will also notice that their employer is in complete control of this process. If the investigation has not been handled properly or will not be handled properly, reach out to us as soon as possible. We can oversee the investigation, sit in on all the interviews, and ensure that the employer conducts an impartial investigation.
Are Forms of Sexual Harassment Criminal?
While we do not intend to cover sexual violence on this page, we understand that it happens in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Justice believes that approximately eight percent of rapes occur in the workplace. Any of the following actions can be taken to the criminal level:
- Assault, which can include unwanted touching, grabbing, hugging, or kissing
- Hitting or hair pulling
- Intimidation, such as cornering the victim in an office and preventing them from leaving
We will support victims when they bring their claims to the police. At the same time, an abuser or employer will be held accountable for the hostile work environment, culture of harassment, and other factors involved in the case.
Do I Have More Than One Claim?
It is possible that a sexual harassment case may bring about other forms of harassment that are just as serious. While we know that sexual harassment is a serious matter that can change one’s life, derail a career, and leave emotional scars, we do not want to ignore the following:
- Age discrimination: This type of discrimination may lead to sexual harassment simply because of how the harassment was perpetrated. Repeated comments based on one’s age qualify as extremely lewd, and they also make light of one’s age.
- Gender discrimination: Men who do not want women in the office might use sexual harassment to force them to quit, and vice versa.
- Religious discrimination: One’s religion may be used as a springboard for the harassment. We want to ensure that all claims of harassment are addressed.
- Wrongful termination: Retaliation in the workplace is illegal and that is why we ask victims to document everything that has happened. We can see the paper trail or order of events that led up to the termination or any other retaliation that took place.
How Does Sexual Harassment Affect My Career?
Sexual harassment can destroy one’s career, ruin a career trajectory, and cause great financial hardship. When a claim is filed for sexual harassment, we will argue that the victim should receive:
- Compensation for pain and suffering.
- Back pay that can be awarded if the worker was not promoted, was demoted, or was transferred out of a more lucrative position.
- Front pay will be awarded if a worker cannot return to their current position.
- Punitive damages from the court, which punish an employer or the guilty parties, and are granted at the judge’s discretion.
- Retroactive benefits if a worker lost medical coverage or their health was adversely affected by the harassment and/or job loss.
We argue cases before the EEOC when needed, and we will thoroughly investigate each case to determine the level of compensation victims deserve.
Why is it Important to Retain an Attorney?
Harassment cases can be difficult to prove. It can also be difficult to explain to an employer why someone at the company has caused all this trouble. Victims may be told to let it go, transferred, demoted, or even terminated. Victims do not want to be painted as the aggressor in the situation. Allow us to meet with the employer, manage all the communications that take place, and share the evidence that we have gathered.
Retaining a lawyer before filing a complaint may be necessary if a victim knows that their employer does not handle sexual harassment complaints properly. Most companies will take communication with a lawyer much more seriously because they do not want to be sued. Forward all calls to our office, and we will collect any extra evidence that is uncovered during the investigation.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Workplace Sexual Harassment Victims
If you were a victim of workplace sexual harassment, reach out to our Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will thoroughly review the facts of your case and determine your legal options. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.