Sexual Harassment

The law prohibits employers from subjecting employees to a work environment that is derogatory or offensive towards employees because of their sex or gender.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Virginia Human Rights Act prohibit workplace sexual harassment. Like other kinds of unlawful harassment, sexual harassment is a kind of disparate treatment discrimination.

There are two kinds of sexual harassment: sex-based hostile work environment harassment and quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment generally involves an employer or supervisor using sexual favors as the basis for employment decisions. Hostile work environment harassment generally involves offensive or intimidating conduct by an employer, supervisor, or co-worker, because of your gender, that is so severe or frequent it creates an abusive work environment.

To be illegal harassment, the conduct does not have to be motivated by sexual desire, but it has to be based on your sex or gender. This includes harassment because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. The harasser can be the same sex or gender as the victim.

Sexual harassment, and in particular sex-based hostile work environment harassment, can take many forms. It can include unwelcome advances or touching. It can include sexually offensive comments or behavior. It can also include derogatory comments or demeaning treatment towards a certain gender. In all forms, it can have a terrible impact on your relationship with your career, your performance, and your physical and emotional health.

Here are some examples of conduct that could be sexual harassment:

  • Your supervisor touches you, or allows co-workers to touch you, in a sexually offensive way, like groping, brushing against your body, hugging, or kissing;
  • Your supervisor makes, or allows co-workers to make, unwelcome sexually suggestive comments to you, such as about your body, your clothes, or comments about sexual acts;
  • You report the sexually-harassing behavior to your employer, and your employer does not investigate and take steps to prevent further harassment;
  • Your supervisor makes, or allows co-workers to make, demeaning comments or jokes directed at your gender;
  • Your supervisor or co-workers circulate sexually offensive jokes or photos using email, interoffice messaging, or text messages;
  • Your supervisor pressures you into going on unwanted dates, having unwanted sex, or starting or maintaining an unwanted romantic relationship;
  • An employer only pays employees for hours they are scheduled to work, even though employees work more hours.

In general, employees who believe they are being sexually harassed should tell the harasser to stop and report the harassment to their employer. Companies usually provide employment handbooks explaining their policies and procedures for reporting and stopping sexual harassment. If an employee does not report the harassment and give the employer a chance to stop it, he or she may not later be able to pursue a legal claim that the employer violated the laws against sexual harassment.

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    If you believe you have suffered from sexual harassment, contact attorney Tim Coffield to discuss a possible legal claim.