Part 2 of 3
The recent flurry of celebrities accused of sexual harassment and worse proves that cultural expectations and legal definitions of sexual harassment are changing. And in light of the number of sexual harassment claims to the EEOC, the problem is still widespread in the workplace.
For the past eight years, the EEOC reports an annual average of 12,513 sexual harassment claims with an average total annual monetary benefit of $42.7 million dollars paid out to victims. And the number of claims has not declined.
We will offer a series of pointers regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to guide employers in this difficult aspect of managing their employees.
Consensual or not
A common rebuttal from accused harassers is that their relationship with the accuser was consensual. There are several problems with this defense, one is that the accuser may not view the relationship as consensual, especially if the perpetrator is a supervisor. Or it may be a case of a romantic relationship that goes south.
In California, employers may be seriously liable for harassment claims that involve a supervisor. Even if the employer did not know about the supervisor’s actions and had policies prohibiting such behavior, there may be exposure for the employer.
Romantic relationships between an employee and a supervisor can also raise the problem of favoritism and departmental conflict. If the relationship ends and one of the parties continues to pursue it, there may be a hostile work environment.
To prevent any claim of sexual harassment, employers will need to be aware of the risks associated with workplace romances and vigilant in their enforcement of anti-harassment policies.
The way an employee looks at another can constitute sexual harassment.
While some types of physical touch or spoken words are blatantly harassment, a less definable type of harassment is the way an employee looks at another, by staring, glaring or leering. Looking at a person’s body or showing a lascivious expression may be considered harassment. A hostile work environment must be defined on a case-by-case basis.
Sexual harassment may mean more than just lust.
A perpetrator may not want to become involved romantically with their accuser, but their repeated sexually offensive remarks or actions would still be considered harassment. For example, if a perpetrator displays hostile actions or language towards others based on their sex or sexual orientation, this could be considered sexual harassment.
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