Sexual harassment at the workplace has been there for a long time, but most of the time such incidents weren’t reported as the victims were apprehensive of getting a favorable response from the people concerned. They worried about getting sued for defamation or other forms of liability. They even feared being fired from their jobs. But with the onset of the #metoo movement, a lot more people are coming forward to narrate their tales. It has exposed the gravity of the situation, that how deep rooted the malaise is.
Is workplace harassment actionable?
Every employee should be allowed to work freely, without any kind of harassment. Employers have a duty to proactively create means of safe reporting and risk assessment. Safe reporting implies, that employees who complain of sexual harassment should not be reprimanded or made to suffer any kind of repercussion. Risk assessment means that the employer should ensure that the work environment is such that there is minimal chance of sexual harassment occuring. If your employer fails to perform the prescribed duties, he/she may be liable if sexual harassment occurs there. If you or someone you know has been sexually harassed at work, consult an attorney for sexual harassment at workplace.
Definition of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment has a broad definition. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other unsolicited verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature which makes a person feel offended or humiliated, constitute sexual harassment. It can also be in the form of discriminatory intimidation, including ridicule and insult, which can be so severe or pervasive that it alters the conditions of the victim’s employment and creates an abusive working environment.
Sexual Harassment Laws
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination pursuant to Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin of the employees. Title VII is applicable to employers with 15 or more employees, local governments, employment agencies and labour organizations. Anyone who is affected by the offensive conduct is called the victim. The law gives protection to the victims against harassment caused by a man or a woman, and the victim doesn’t have to be of the opposite sex than the offender. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
Suing for emotional pain suffered from sexual harassment
In the case of Meritor Sav Bank v/s Vinson, the Supreme Court specified that harassment has to cause a “tangible psychological injury” for an employee to have a viable claim against the employer. Since then, the Title VII has been extended to include sexual discrimination in the workplace. This injury doesn’t have to be physical, it can also be emotional. An attorney for sexual harassment can establish that the pain suffered is an injury that could have been prevented by the employer. If you’ve experienced pain and other emotional and physical trauma that you can associate with the harassment, you should seek professional help.
Preventing workplace sexual harassment
Prevention is the best tool to minimise sexual harassment in the workplace. There are laws and regulations that encourage employers to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment. Employers should make it clear to employees that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and provide them sexual harassment training by establishing an effective complaint and grievance process. They must take immediate and appropriate action on complaints.
The law protects employers who promulgate policies to prevent sexual harassment. Employers should have a sexual harassment policy that provides a clear and succinct definition of sexual harassment and encourages individuals to report instances of threatened or actual violation of the policy.
Intimating employer about a sexual harassment incident
It is in the victim’s best interest to tell the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victims should make use of any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available to lodge their complaints. The nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred will be investigated for sexual harassment.
Retaliation against sexual harassment complaints
If you report sexual harassment at work, it is generally met with retaliatory behaviour from the accused that may include spiteful and negative acts. Retaliation is a violation of Title VII, and if you believe retaliation has occurred or you have been threatened, you should report the matter. When there is a probationary period or warning following your report, then there is ground to suspect retaliation. Under these circumstances, you should always seek advice from a workplace sexual harassment lawyer to take necessary actions.