Since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1965, the laws on sexual harassment have evolved into a formidable protector of a woman’s rights in the workplace. In the past, many women – especially those that were single mothers and/or the sole source of income for the family – were intimidated or coerced into having sexual relations with their supervisors in order to keep their jobs or to receive a promotion. Thanks to the hard work of many persons arguing on behalf of women’s rights, this form of harassment, called quid pro quo harassment, has been outlawed, and a violation could lead to severe monetary sanctions against a company that has a supervisor that attempts any such act.
However, this quid pro quo harassment is not the only form of illegal sexual harassment. Both state and federal law protect both males and females from being harassed based on having to endure sexually offensive behavior by coworkers and supervisors — but, the law in this area is not black and white, as not every joke or offensive act is a violation of the law. Rather, the courts will only provide protections for actions that are so severe or pervasive that they either interfere with an employee’s work performance, or they create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. This can include inappropriate touching, sexual propositions, and numerous egregious sexual jokes or sex-related comments from coworkers and supervisors. Please note that there is no way to list every action that may or may not violate the law in this web site, but it important to understand that courts and juries will be asked to find a violation only when the conduct is clearly offensive to the victim, and to a reasonable person. Also, failure to comply with a legitimate-company policy on harassment by reporting violations by coworkers and supervisors may also prevent a person from obtaining monetary relief for sexual harassment.
Finally, the sexual harassment laws also protect an employee from being harassed because of his or her gender. There is a subtle difference between this type of harassment and the harassment addressed above, in that this type of harassment does not involve sex; rather, it involves a person being targeted because of his or her gender. However, as with the harassment incidents mentioned above, the courts will only provide protections for actions that are considered to be severe and pervasive, and the courts may not provide protection for victims that fail to comply with a legitimate-company policy on harassment by reporting violations by coworkers and supervisors.