Employers can sometimes make inappropriate sexual comments or gestures to employees. These types of comments or gestures are not permitted under the law and can create an atmosphere at the workplace that make it extremely difficult or simply not possible to accomplish the work required. There are occasions when the comments become so distracting or debilitating that it essentially creates a situation where the employee is “constructively discharged.” In other words, the workplace can become so intolerable that the employee has no choice but to resign. This type of situation is illegal and entitles the employee to damages. What Behavior Constitutes Sexual Harassment Defining what is and what is not sexual harassment is a difficult task. While some behaviors and actions are clearly harassing and sexual in nature, other times sexual harassment appears in more subtle forms. If you are made to feel uncomfortable at work by words or actions and those words or actions are sexual in nature, it would be wise to speak with a Tampa sexual harassment attorney to learn if you have a case. Sexual harassment can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Inappropriate or unwelcome touching: This includes groping, touching, hugging, kissing, caressing, fondling and other such actions. It can also include actions the perpetrator claims are “accidental,” such as intentionally “bumping” into you or otherwise intentionally touching you. If any of these actions made you feel uncomfortable, you may be the victim of sexual harassment.
- Requests / demands for sexual favors: A coworker or boss who requests or demands a sexual favor from another in return for some action or inaction on the coworker’s or boss’s part has engaged in sexual harassment. For example, promising a promotion to an employee in return for sexual intercourse or agreeing not to report a coworker’s excessive absences in return for sexual touching are both examples of sexual harassment.
- Rude or demeaning comments or jokes: A comment or joke that demeans one gender can be a form of sexual harassment, even if the comment is made by a person of that gender.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature necessarily. For example, an employer cannot make offensive comments about a particular gender in general.
Common Misconceptions About Sexual Harassment Despite the fact that most workplaces educate their employees about sexual harassment, there are some common misconceptions about sexual harassment that still exist:
- Sexual harassment victims are always women. In fact, both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment.
- Sexual harassment perpetrators are always workplace superiors. The truth is that superiors, coworkers, and even subordinates can be perpetrators of sexual harassment against you.
- If I’m not part of the conversation, I’m not a victim. Even if you simply overhear a joke that demeans women or a comment that is negative toward men, if the joke or comment negatively affects you, you may be considered a victim of sexual harassment.
- Perpetrators of sexual harassment always victimize members of the opposite sex. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone and be perpetrated by anyone. There are examples of women sexually harassing other women and men sexually harassing other men.
Help for Victims of Sexual Harassment Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature necessarily. For example, an employer cannot make offensive comments about a particular gender in general. While the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, the law does prohibit such conduct if it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an employee’s firing, demotion, or lack of promotion. If you believe that you have been harassed at your workplace, please contact the lawyers at Burnett Wilson Reeder for a free consultation.