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Is workplace sexual harassment still an issue?

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2021 | Employment Law

In the year 2021, it is hard to believe that sexual harassment in the workplace is still an ongoing issue. However, with the recent happenings around New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the recent litigation amongst a plethora of broadcast news outfits, it would seem we still live in a world of pervasive workplace sexual harassment.

What is workplace sexual harassment?

While the old adage of, “ya know it when ya see it,” is true here, sex discrimination is illegal under federal law: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law applies to all employers within the U.S., as long as the business has at least 15 employees. And, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission breaks down what constitutes illegal workplace sexual harassment. This includes he obvious, like direct requests for sexual favors and unwelcome sexual advances. Though, it also can include any unwelcome sexual physical or verbal conduct that affects one’s employment. This affect can be related to one’s work performance, whether one can keep their employment or if it creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

What rases conduct to illegal sexual harassment?

First, sexual conduct only rises to the level of illegal sexual harassment if the physical or verbal conduct is offensive and unwelcome by the victim. Second, there does not have to be any economic injury to the victim. The harasser also does not necessarily have to be the victim’s supervisor. Indeed, any agent of the employer or even in some cases, a non-employee (i.e., a customer, vendor, etc.), can be the harasser. And, the victim can be any gender, even non-binary. The key is whether the conduct is sexual in nature, is unwelcome and, at a minimum creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Hostile work environment

The EEOC differentiates sexual harassment into two types: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. Hostile work environment refers to the creation of an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment through sexual or demeaning behavior, jokes, photographs or threats. This inappropriate conduct must also be pervasive.

Quid pro quo

If any of Sherwood, Oregon, readers have watched the news over the past year or so, they are likely familiar with the term, quid pro quo. And, that understanding is essentially the same in the sexual harassment context, where it refers to when someone in a position of authority wants sex or a sexual favor in exchange for something at work (i.e., keeping a job, promotion, raise, etc.).