Sexual Harassment

Since 1991, juries have returned more than 500 verdicts on sexual harassment, many of which are contradictory, according to Time magazine (March 23, 1998). The legal principle is hard one to get your arms around. So for now rely on an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission definition.

It describes sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” when acquiescence is a condition of getting or keeping a job, a promotion, or a pay increase (quid pro quo harassment) or when it substantially interferes with employees’ ability to do their work” (harassment that creates a hostile work environment).

The agency charged with administering federal sexual harassment laws is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Call 800/669-3362 for free literature on preventing sexual harassment. If you have specific questions, you must contact the EEOC. For the office nearest you, call 800/669-4000.

Intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

Does this law apply to your company?:

Federal law related to sexual harassment applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees, not independent contractors. However, many state laws apply to companies with as few as two employees, and some include independent contractor within the definition of a protected person.