What are your rights if you are a victim?
Unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace violates state and federal law. Illegal sexual conduct ranges from actions such as unwanted comments about a person’s body or questions about someone’s personal relationships to requests for sex and inappropriate touching. Requests by a supervisor for dates, or worse, requests for sex, clearly violate the law. Inappropriate touching by a supervisor also clearly violates the law. Sexual requests or touching by a co-worker also violates the law if the employer knows, or should know, about the conduct. The victim of sexual harassment must take certain actions to protect her or his rights under the law.
If you believe that you are a victim of sexual harassment, you should contact the employment rights attorneys at our Stamford, Connecticut firm immediately so we can help stop the harassment and protect your rights.
Not all inappropriate sexualized conduct in the workplace is against the law. Here are the types of conduct that are prohibited by law:
- Quid Pro Quo—Supervisor’s sexual demand in return for a job benefit. The employee’s capitulation to the demand does not invalidate his/her claim, nor does the employee have to prove resistance to overtures.
- Creation of Hostile and Intimidating Work Environment—Sexual conduct that intimidates, or makes uncomfortable, the recipient.
Illegal conduct includes:
- Sexual touching and comments.
- Demeaning sexual inquiries.
- Sexual insults and innuendoes that are directed toward one gender of employees.
General use of off-color language is not sufficient to constitute a hostile environment.
There must be a connection to the victim’s employment for sexual harassment to be illegal. (Other laws prohibit sexual assault, unrelated to employment, and sexual harassment in schools.) The harassment can be connected in the following ways:
- Submission to sexual conduct is a condition or term of employment.
- Submission to, or rejection of, sexual conduct affects employment decisions.
- Sexual conduct interferes with work performance or creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive working environment.
- The conduct must be so pervasive that it alters working conditions by creating an abusive environment and affects the psychological well-being of the employee.
An employer’s liability (responsibility) for sexual harassment in the workplace depends on the type of sexual harassment that occurred:
1. Quid Pro Quo Harassment
a) If the harassment was the Quid Pro Quo harassment described above (submission to sex, or sexual conduct, is required from the victim), the employer is strictly liable (which means the employer has no defense to excuse it from responsibility) if the employee suffers a tangible employment action as a result of failure to comply with the sexual request. Tangible employment actions involve a significant change in job status such as hiring, firing, promotion, raises, reassignment, or change in benefits.
2. Hostile Environment Situation
a) If a supervisors’ sexual harassment of subordinates creates a hostile environment, but job benefits are not conditioned on submission to sexual requests, an employer will be liable for the supervisors’ sexual harassment. This is true even if the supervisor does not have actual authority over the victimized employee, but the employee believes the supervisor has that authority.
b) For co-workers’ acts of sexual harassment, an employer will be liable if it knew or should have known harassment was occurring.
c) However, an employer may avoid liability, if it can prove:
i. It promptly used reasonable care to prevent or correct the conduct.
ii. The victimized employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer, such as not reporting the sexual harassment to a supervisor or human resources.
When an employer is made aware of sexual harassment, they must:
- Investigate immediately.
- Take prompt disciplinary measures if an investigation shows the complaint is correct/valid.
- Immediately stop hostile environment situations and prevent reoccurrence—monitoring, distribution of the policy, and discipline.
- Have a policy prohibiting sexual harassment and a mechanism for making complaints.
A victim of sexual harassment must almost always report the conduct. If he or she does not, there may be no protection under the law.