Employers have the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, many neglect to do so. This is a mistake from a moral, legal, and financial standpoint, as they implicate themselves in cases of sexual harassment. Employers are held legally responsible not only for their response towards allegations of sexual harassment but also vicariously liable for their supervisors’ actions. Employers must take immediate actions to respond to any sexual harassment allegations in the workplace. To do so, employers should have strict policies against sexual harassment, have in place procedures for victims of sexual harassment to make a complaint and outline the ways in which an employer handles a sexual harassment complaint through investigations and necessary actions. If your employer does not have a policy against sexual harassment, they must still take certain actions to address and rectify the situation.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It consists of unwelcome sexual advances or inappropriate behavior that results in a hostile or distressing work environment. Both males and females can be subjected to sexual harassment from members of the same or opposite sex. Sexual harassment can include verbal harassment including inappropriate statements about your appearance, physical touching, offensive language directed towards a person’s gender or sexual orientation, inappropriate demands for sexual favors or demands for dates and other non-work related activities. It can even include displaying sexually graphic videos, images, or sounds to a person in an effort to make them feel uncomfortable.
You may be subject to two different kinds of sexual harassment in the workplace: (1) sexual harassment perpetuated by your supervisor, manager, or a higher-ranking official of the employer; or (2) sexual harassment perpetuated by a coworker.
Your Duties as the Victim of Sexual Harassment
As a victim of sexual harassment, you have a duty to complain about the harassment and put your employer on notice. Your employer then has a duty to do something about it; they cannot just ignore the complaint and hope that it resolves on its own.
If you complain about having been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, your employer must investigate the allegations in an effective and confidential manner. This means that employers must confront the person who has perpetuated the harassment and interview others in the workplace who may have witnessed the incident or know something about it. You may also be interviewed or required to make a written statement about the incident. This investigation should be conducted by the appropriate persons in the workplace, oftentimes the human resources department. The investigation must be conducted in a confidential manner and immediately after the incident. If the employer does not have a human resources department, it still has a duty to investigate the allegations and make sure such incidents do not happen again. After having received a complaint of sexual harassment, if your employer does not take any action to investigate and address the allegation and the harassment continues you may have a claim against your employer for hostile work environment or constructive termination if you quit.
Harassment by a Supervisor
If your harasser is your direct supervisor and there is no one else to complain to, which is often the case in small businesses, then you may not have a duty to complain at all. The law deems such complaints to be futile or pointless since you will be complaining about the sexual harassment to the person who has harassed you, which is not very realistic.
Furthermore, when the sexual harassment is perpetuated by your supervisor, manager, director, or a person having the power to hire, fire, promote, demote, or change your employment terms and conditions, in addition to having an claim against the individual who harassed you, you may also have a claim against your employer company. In such circumstances, the employer will be vicariously or indirectly liable for the actions of the harasser, since the harasser is acting within the scope of his employment in his or her managerial position when sexually harassing you. The harasser is deemed to be an agent of the company or your employer under the eyes of the law.
Harassment by a Coworker
If your harasser is a coworker, you have a duty to complain about the sexual harassment you are subjected to. Your employer has a duty to investigate and address your complaint. If after having complained about the harassment, your employer protects the sexual harasser and takes adverse employment action against you, you may have a case against your employer. Adverse employment action includes firing, demoting, cutting your pay, or altering your working conditions as to force you to quit your job.
What to do if Your Company Does Not Respond Properly to an Allegation
Your employer must see to it that the sexual harassment complaints are taken seriously. They must effectively investigate and put an end to the sexual harassment by taking necessary precautions, warning, suspending or even firing the sexual harasser. You should not have to feel uncomfortable or continue to be harassed in your workplace. If your employer fails to address the situation in an appropriate manner or retaliates against you, it may be time to take legal action. An experienced and knowledgeable New York City lawyer can boost your chances of success. The attorneys at Akin Law Group have years of courtroom experience, expertise with the law New York City Human Rights Law, New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act. The experienced attorneys at Akin Law Group know all the ways in which you can pursue your claim against your sexual harasser and employer and the best way to achieve the fastest results. Akin Law Group also has a solid track record of making the highest recoveries for their clients. Call 866.685.5163 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claims with an attorney today.