Posted by Tamara
Many employers mistakenly assume that sexual harassment only exists if there is a promise of reward or threat of punishment. For example, Tina, a secretary, is repeatedly asked by her supervisor for oral sex. The implication is that a refusal will end her employment. This scenario is known as the quid pro quo. It is definitely sexual harassment, which is a form of sex discrimination, but it is not the only type.
Any unwanted attention in the workplace due to an employee’s gender constitutes sexual harassment. Female employees aren’t the only victims. Male employees can be harassed by female employees and by other male employees. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) reports that these types of complaints have increased over the past few years.
Let’s look at another scenario. Tom receives an invitation to go out on a date from Maria, his coworker. He refuses and makes it clear that he isn’t interested. So far, everything is fine. If Maria continues to ask Tom out, and he refuses, then she is sexually harassing him.
An employee can be sexually harassed by supervisors, coworkers, vendors or customers. The majority of cases involve repeated unwelcome sexual advances, but a single incident can be considered sexual harassment, too. If an employee leers at a coworker and says, “Your dress is very sexy,” that employee could be guilty of sex discrimination or harassment. In some cases, courts have ruled that telling dirty jokes in the workplace constitutes sexual harassment.
Whether it is repeated behavior or a single incident, it is the employer’s responsibility to put an end to the behavior. Employees are entitled to a harassment-free work environment. Companies need to understand that workers should be allowed to do their jobs without worrying about fending off unwanted sexual advances from anyone.
Employers that don’t provide a harassment-free environment, that allow sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior to go unabated are legally liable. Complaints can results in companies paying damages, sometimes in the millions of dollars.
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