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Sexual Harassment by the Owner of the Company

When the owner of a company is engaging in sexual harassment with one or a group of their employees, it not only makes those employees uncomfortable, but it also places the entire company at risk. Those who are facing ongoing harassment may feel even greater pressure not to speak up for fear of alienating their co-workers.

Even though the owner of a company might hold significant power and authority over their employees, it does not give them the right to mistreat them. Company owners have an obligation to create an open and hospitable environment for employees. If they fail to do that, they could find themselves being held liable for their actions and facing a sexual harassment lawsuit.

It may seem intimidating when the owner of a company is directing inappropriate comments at a particular employee. The employee might feel overwhelmed and powerless to do anything against a person who has so much authority. Regardless, they need to stand up and report any harassment that is happening. Contacting a sexual harassment lawyer for assistance can help the employee determine their next steps.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment by the Company Owner?

When the owner of a company makes an unwanted sexual advance, comment, or sexual contact with their employees, this is an example of sexual harassment by an owner and can be one of the more complicated and scariest experiences for an employee who is enduring it. Although it may appear as if the employee has no recourse if they are being sexually harassed by the owner of a company, that is not the case.

Over the years, there have been numerous examples of owners being held liable for their inappropriate actions toward their employees. For instance, in 2019, companies had to pay more than $68 million through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to employees. This was a record-setting amount. The number was still sadly high even with those cases that never reached trial, as the average cost for a harassment claim employers had to pay out was between $75,000 and $125,000.

Given the authority business owners have over an entire workforce, sexual harassment by an owner can fall into two categories:

  • Quid pro quo: The harassing behavior is called quid pro quo when the owner will offer an employee or potential employee a work perk such as a raise, better responsibilities, or even a job in exchange for sexual favors. An owner could also threaten a person’s job unless they have sexual contact with them.
  • Hostile work environment: An owner creates a hostile work environment when they use sexual harassment in one of two ways. The first is if they use it to intimidate an employee or a potential employee. The second is if they create an uncomfortable work environment that will make it quite difficult if not impossible for the average person to be productive at work.

Although most sexual harassment occurs when a man harasses a woman, this is by no means the only time sexual harassment occurs. Women can also be held liable for harassing men, just as a man can harass another man and a woman can harass another woman. No matter a person’s gender, if they are experiencing sexual harassment, they should not be afraid to step forward to stop such unacceptable behavior.

What are Examples of Sexual Harassment by an Owner?

There are a variety of actions that an owner can engage in that constitutes sexual harassment. A few of these instances include:

  • Touching any part of an employee’s body every time they are in the same vicinity
  • Kissing a person against their will
  • Grabbing or touching an employee’s genitals or breasts
  • Offering a promotion in exchange for sexual favors
  • Demoting a worker for denying sexual favors
  • Sending sexually explicit emails and text messages
  • Denying a raise unless the person agrees to go on a date with them
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault

When a co-worker is the perpetrator of unwanted sexual behavior, it might be easier for an employee to avoid them, but when it is the owner, it can be more difficult. It can feel as if there is no way to stop the abusive behavior. Given the power dynamic between an owner and an employee, the owner has a tremendous amount of authority over their staff. Attempting to coerce sexual favors from an employee can create an atmosphere of high anxiety and stress.

One of the emotional and mental traumas that employees contend with when facing harassment is they never know if it will stop. Unlike a co-worker or a manager who could get reassigned or leave the company, the company owner is most likely not going anywhere. This puts significant pressure on the employee. Although it may appear as if there are not options for the employee, there are indeed options, and a sexual harassment lawyer can explain them.

What are My Options if the Owner is Sexually Harassing Me?

It may appear daunting if the owner of the company is engaged in sexual harassment of an employee or employees. Although owners are the top of the chain of command, an employee has options to report the unwanted behavior. The company should have policies and procedure in place to handle it, but if not, there are always outside government agencies that monitor these types of situations and will act accordingly.

An employee encountering sexual harassment should first document the behavior by the owner. They should take meticulous notes that include when the incident happened, who was present, what was said or done, and any other relevant information. If there are any inappropriate notes or emails that were sent, those should also be kept and documented. An employee should copy the information and keep it safe. Ideally, they should bring it home with them every night.

When an employee wants to report sexual harassment by their owner, their first option is to attempt to make an in-house complaint with the company. An employer should have policies or procedures in place to report this behavior, typically with a complaint being filed with the company’s human resources (HR) rep.

If there are no HR reps available, there are other options a person can take. Those include the following:

  • The board of directors: The board would understand the gravity of the situation and have the authority to reprimand the owner or even demand that they sell the company.
  • A co-owner: If there is another owner, they will have equal authority over the company and may also be able to address the situation, given their equal standing within the company.
  • A governing agency: An employee may fear retaliation if they go to HR and want to file a complaint with an outside agency. There are several options at the federal and state level. At the federal level, employees can file a complaint with the EEOC. Some people believe that state agencies operate much more quickly, so those in Pennsylvania can file a case with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), and those in New Jersey can file a case with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General.

If an employee is going to act, they should act quickly, as the statute of limitations to file a claim with either the EEOC or the PHRC is 300 days and is two years in New Jersey.

Do I Have to File a Claim with My Company to Still Have a Case?

An employee may fear retaliation by the owner of the company or suspect retribution from colleagues or others at a company who are loyal to the owner, so they may be reticent to voice their complaints with their HR department or anyone else at the company.

They can rest assured that their ability to file a case with a government agency or a lawsuit will not be impacted by not reporting the incident to the company. A company may still be held liable if the employee sustains any adverse employment action, meaning it can still be made to compensate an employee for emotional and psychological injuries, even if the person did not sustain any monetary damage.

What Damages can I Seek if the Owner Sexually Harasses Me?

Regardless of who at a company is engaged in unwanted sexual advances or comments to another employee, that employee may still be entitled to a financial reward to compensate them for the trauma they endured.

Even if it is the owner who engaged in the bad behavior, those actions must never be repeated. Therefore, an employee can still seek what they would during any other sexual harassment lawsuit, including the following:

Lost wages: Since it is the owner who is making the workplace environment uncomfortable, an employee may be unable to come to work every day and take excessive time off or just quit. They may have also been terminated because they refused sexual advances or complained about the owner’s behavior. They can recoup all the salary they would have made were it not for the owner’s actions.

Medical expenses: The ongoing harassment could have had a significant emotional and mental impact on a person that manifested itself into physical ailments requiring medical treatment. A lawsuit can help a person recoup the costs of those unexpected expenses.

Emotional distress: Dealing with the unknown and potentially isolating feeling of being harassed by the owner of a company can be emotionally traumatizing for an individual to endure. In consultation with their lawyer, an employee can request a specific amount to compensate them for this trauma.

Pain and suffering: Given the same circumstances as the emotional distress, a person can request a certain dollar amount to compensate them for any pain and suffering the ordeal caused them.

Reinstatement: Challenging the owner of a company can be difficult, and it could have cost a person their job, their hours, their salary, or some other work benefits. They can request to be reinstated to their previous position prior to the situation starting.

Non-monetary requests: Given the hostile work environment that the owner created through their actions, an employee can request significant changes take place at the company as part of the lawsuit. That could include instituting new and stricter policies when it comes to sexual harassment and even personnel changes.

It is understandable if the trauma of returning to a company after going through a sexual harassment lawsuit is too much to bear. A person can also request that the company help them receive training for another position or help pay for a job placement service that will assist them in finding another opportunity.

How can the Owner Avoid Sexual Harassment Problems?

Although the owner of a company should treat all their employees with courtesy and respect, they should also be proactive in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment. If they fail to properly act, they can still be held liable for sexual harassment even if they did not take part in any inappropriate actions.

To minimize the risk of a sexual harassment claim turning into a lawsuit, business owners can follow a few steps to improve the workplace environment. Those steps include these measures:

  • Sexual harassment education: Just before an employee joins a company or immediately after, they should receive educational packets about sexual harassment, what it entails, and why it is wrong. The company should make clear that it does not tolerate harassment of any kind.
  • Develop a system for handling complaints: To prevent sexual harassment from getting out of hand, a system should be put in place that makes it easy for employees to report any incidents that occur. This policy should be well known to the employee and easy to follow. All complaints should be thoroughly investigated and decisive action taken.
  • Avoid retaliatory actions: This might not be as easy as it sounds. There could be a temptation to remove, demote, or transfer an employee who is voicing complaints. Although these actions might be taken with the best of intentions, they could be construed as retaliation against a person for speaking up and should be avoided.

Creating an open and inviting environment with strong and transparent polices in place will help employees feel safe and confident, especially if another is mistreating them. They will have the confidence to speak up with their concerns, knowing that the company will rectify the situation.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Will Confront Any Owner Who is Sexually Harassing You

It can be intimidating and scary when facing ongoing sexual harassment from the owner of your company. You may believe you have no recourse available to you except to quit. Rest assured you have options available to you, and you can fight back. Let the Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. be your advocates as we confront the owner and their company to make sure you get the resolution that you deserve. No one should have to endure any form of sexual harassment, least of all from the owner. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey, as well as in New York.

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