There is no law against being a jerk–and there can often be a fine line between what constitutes annoying, boorish or immature behavior and what rises to illegal sexual harassment.
While a one-time suggestive email may earn an employee disciplinary action, it may not rise to the level of harassment if the behavior is not repeated. A pervasive pattern, however, will earn the employee and employer a complaint and very likely, a lawsuit.
What constitutes sexual harassment?
One company found out just how costly a sexual harassment suit can be. Z foods, a dried fruit processor based in California, was found liable for pervasive sexual harassment. Supervisors were determined to be targeting female workers by:
- basing both employment and advancement on sexual favors from the women,
- making sexual advances toward the women,
- stalking the female employees, and
- subjecting them to unwanted touching and leering.
How often does sexual harassment occur?
According to HRWatchdog.com, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that sexual harassment charges make up 17 percent of the complaints filed each year. In general, it is likely that many more cases of sexual harassment occur than are reported.
Many women experience sexual harassment at work, but often either try to ignore it or simply tolerate it. For many, the fear of losing their job, or facing retaliation in another way, keeps them from reporting the incidents.
Judgments such as the one against Z foods can help reduce sexual harassment, but a better way of addressing the problem is to hold every culprit accountable.
Keep them accountable
Whether it is a boss, supervisor or colleague, it is essential for anyone experiencing harassment to keep a log of all acts, record all conversations or communication with management regarding the incidents, and seek the help of an attorney who can hold guilty parties responsible. With these measures, sexual harassment can become infrequent, and, maybe even obsolete.