Sexual Harassment at the Job Interview

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, New York State Executive Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. While some forms of sexual harassment only involve inappropriate comments, many other forms of sexual harassment involve some sort of unwelcome physical contact (touching). If you’re being sexually harassed in any unwanted manner by someone you are interviewing with, or if they make your hire contingent upon you putting up with sexual harassment, you should call the Akin Law Group without delay. New York and New Jersey’s laws provide some of the most comprehensive protections for potential employees (individuals that are in the interview process).

Conduct giving rise to a sexual harassment claim often fall into one of two categories.

  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: At the interview, you are told that that a job offer to you would be based on your compliance with certain sexual acts (agreeing to kiss someone or agreeing to engage in sexual relations). In other words, the interviewer tells you that you will not be hired for the job unless you let this person touch you; the touching does not necessarily have to be intercourse;; acts like touching your breast or other private parts is more than sufficient
  • Hostile Work Environment: This type of sexual harassment is any act or words that make you feel uncomfortable in a sexually related manner. By way of an example, at the interview, the interviewer starts to rub his crotch and smiles at you making you feel uncomfortable; or the interviewer tells you “you have beautiful breasts, you should open a few more buttons on your blouse.” You have been sexually harassed through a hostile work environment if you have been subjected to any unwanted verbal or physical contact that interferes with your performance at the interview and creates a hostile / distressful atmosphere.

Although these are the most prevalent types of sexual harassment that occurs at an interview, if you are unsure about whether your circumstances are illegal and actionable, contact one of the sexual harassment attorneys at the Akin Law Group today.

When does an interview become sexual harassment?

Many individuals go to an interview with the hopes and expectations of receiving a job offer. The entire job seeking process as well as the interview is often a stressful time. Unfortunately, many individuals that are interviewing find themselves in an inferior position to the person that is conducted the interview, knowing that their future and ability to obtain a job is at the sole discretion of this individual that is conducting the interview. As such, the interviewee can be in a vulnerable situation, which an interview with bad intentions may try to capitalize on, giving rise to sexual harassment.  As one young interviewee (a young lady who had just graduated college with a sizable student debt that needed to be repaid as well as her own expenses) described her situation, the manager that was conducting the interview came and sat next to the young lady that. As the interview proceeded, he started to look down her blouse rather than at her face and whenever he would look at her, he would smile and grin moving very close to her (invading her personal space). The young lady knew that the manager’s conduct was out of line and sexually offensive, but chose to keep quite rather than jeopardize the possibility of obtaining a job offer. Pretty soon, his hand was on her knee as he told her “you’re beautiful, I can most certainly make a position available for you as long as you understand that you have to be a ‘team player’”.  When she asked what he meant by “team player,” he smiled and said, “you take care of me and I will take care of you.” Despite needing the job, this is all she needed to hear to walk out of that job interview. Not only was the interview permeated with hostility, the manger also engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment. Anyone that feels they have been sexually harassed at the interview should immediately contact the Akin Law Group. Any job offer that begins with sexual harassment will surely continue with sexual harassment.

Is it okay for someone to touch me during a job interview?

It is customary for individuals to shake hands when they meet for an interview. As such, a certain amount of contact is almost always accepted (unless it is against your religious beliefs).  However, it is not okay for anyone to touch you at an interview if you feel the contact is “offensive.”  By way of an example, an interviewer placing his hand on the knee of a young woman that is being interviewed is not acceptable. The young lady may try to endure the situations and hope that it does not escalate or, being unsure as to what is actionable or when a harmless contact becomes sexually harassment, try to make light of the situation. The interviewee may even try to justify the comments or the contact and convince herself that she is not really being sexually harassed (with the pressure of getting a job offer on the line) by thinking:

  • “He’s just a touchy-feely kind of person; he means no harm, it’s just the way he is.”
  • “He’s not touching my breast or my crotch; this can’t be sexual harassment”
  • “I know he’s looking down my blouse, but it’s not like he can really see anything”
  • “I need this job; I’m sure he won’t be my manager or act this way once I start working here”
  • “I don’t want to cause trouble; plus this would be a really good place to work. Let me just smile and go along until I get the job; I can always say something later.”

Although you don’t want to scream fire without just cause and risk losing a good job, anytime you feel uncomfortable with what has transpired at a job interview, you should speak to an experienced sexual harassment attorney. Sexual harassment is very fact specific and at times, what you believe is actionable may not be meanwhile what you see as harmless may in fact be sexual harassment.

What should you do about inappropriate comments, questions or touching during an interview?

Although not all forms of inappropriate touching (shaking hands, giving someone a “high-five”) can be deemed sexual harassment, just like some words or complements being harmless (“that’s a nice blouse” ), other words and actions can be highly offensive and grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Examples of inappropriate comments, questions or acts during an interview can include the following:

  • “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “Are you married?”
  • “Will you date someone that you work with?”
  • “You have an amazing body”
  • “Looks like you have sex on a regular basis”

In addition to offensive comments and questions of this type it would be equally wrong, if not more so, for the interview to:

  • Start giving you a message and/or rubbing your shoulders, your legs, etc.
  • Sitting next to you and placing his hand on your knee
  • Rubbing against you when entering or leaving the room.

Any act or word that makes the interviewee feel uncomfortable (in a sexual context, not merely being asked difficult questions about the job or their skills) or that demand some kind of sexual act or contact would be illegal.

You fought long and hard to obtain a good job interview. No one should take your right to obtain that job. The lawyers at Akin Law Group will fight passionately and effectively for your rights. Don’t let a sexual predator cause you to lose the job that you deserve. Call the Akin law Group at 212-825-1400 and set up a Free and Confidential consultation with one of our sexual harassment attorneys today.