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All Sexual Harassment is wrong, when does it become illegal?

I am being constantly harassed by someone at work. He is making inappropriate suggestions and comments all the time. What can I do?

Sexual harassment at work occurs when an employee makes unwelcome sexual advances toward another employee. These include requests for sexual favors, or other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This harassment becomes illegal when it reasonably interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. The harassment is also illegal if your refusal could affect the terms and conditions of your employment.

There are two categories of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is conduct that requires an employee to submit to sexual demands as a condition of employment. Generally, the harasser threatens you or implies that if you don’t give in, you’ll lose your job, receive a bad performance rating, or suffer some other negative consequence.

Hostile environment sexual harassment involves harassment of an employee, based on his or her gender, to the point where the working environment becomes hostile. The conduct may include unwelcome contact or comments.

Factors in determining whether your working environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive include:

  • The frequency of the conduct
  • The severity of the conduct
  • Whether the harassment is physically threatening or humiliating
  • Whether the harassment is a one-time offensive utterance
  • Whether the harassment unreasonably interferes with your work performance

You would need to demonstrate you told the offending person to stop the conduct because you found it unwelcome. This is necessary because the harasser may argue that he or she thought the conduct was welcome.

If you file a successful complaint you may be entitled to:

  • Back pay, including wages and benefits, from the date you were terminated or weren’t promoted
  • Compensatory damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • Punitive damages if your employer engaged in intentional discrimination
  • Money to compensate you for potential future losses because the discrimination slowed down or halted your career advancement

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to take action because harassment can affect job performance, compensation and physical health. If your company has procedures in place for handling sexual harassment claims, try to resolve the problem internally. But if you can’t resolve the problem to your satisfaction, call Nelson, Bryan & Cross.



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