Understanding Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
There are many forms of harassment in the workplace, though the most commonly talked about is sexual harassment. Many people know about this form of harassment because it is frequently covered in the media and because it is a very common situation in many workplaces throughout the US. When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, it is wise to contact a sexual harassment attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that the issue is addressed correctly.
Sexual harassment can create an embarrassing situation for the victim, and it can make you feel uncomfortable, isolated, and even afraid of the consequences of bringing it to light. It is important to report any sexual harassment situation to the HR department or your manager, though doing so does not always lead to the hoped-for outcome. In fact, you may feel that you aren’t being taken seriously and that nothing is being done to punish the behavior or prevent its reoccurrence. In some cases, the victim of sexual harassment finds that more is done to protect the perpetrator than the victim. This is why it is so helpful to have the guidance, representation, and advice of an attorney when sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, especially if no steps are taken after the situation is reported. The attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm will provide a free consultation and help you to fully understand how Missouri law effects your case and what to do next.
Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment
There are different legal acts that protect you from sexual harassment in the workplace in the United States and in Missouri, specifically. In the US, there is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII which makes such harassment and discrimination illegal throughout the country. Then, Missouri has the Missouri Human Rights Act, which clarifies the laws concerning such harassment and discrimination within this state. Legally, sexual harassment is defined by these documents as any unwanted sexual advances, including verbal comments, unwanted physical contact, and requests for favors of a sexual nature.
The law protects employees and customers of businesses from such illegal conduct on a federal and state level. Having said that, the law applies to any circumstance in which the conduct interferes with workplace performance or occurs multiple times. Then, there are situations where an employer retaliates against the employee for rejecting the attention and advances of a sexual nature. Such situations can involve being fired, demoted, having your schedule changed, or experiencing some form of disciplinary action. If this happens to you, then you not only have a sexual harassment claim; you also have a retaliation claim for illegal retaliation of an employer to an employee.
Yet, sexual harassment claims are not only embarrassing and difficult to pursue; they can also be complex and confusing. You must file such claims before the given deadline and you must avoid making any mistakes in the process, or you might forfeit your right to legal compensation and protection. To ensure that you don’t miss any steps or run out the statute of limitations, contact a sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible for a free consultation and guidance going forward.
Different Forms of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment comes in different forms and is categorized into two basic types: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment & Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment. The first (quid pro quo) involves the victim being forced to behave in a given sexual manner in order to keep their job or avoid work related consequences, such as demotion or disciplinary measures. The threat in such situations may be direct or implied, and the employee may feel that they have no choice but to go along with the sexual advances and requests of the employer or supervisor.
The second (hostile work environment) involves severe, offensive, and pervasive harassment that is based on gender. To be defined as hostile work environment sexual harassment, the behavior must occur many times and must be considered to be offensive to you and to anyone else. In other words, you cannot claim harassment because you are particularly sensitive to some perceived offense. Rather, it must be something that anyone would find offensive in your position.
Do Sexual Harassment Laws Protect You?
Men and women are equally protected from sexual harassment. Federal law protects all employees from quid pro quo harassment and from hostile work environment harassment. Small businesses that have fewer than fifteen employees, but more than five, are addressed by the Missouri Human Rights Act. Larger businesses, with greater than fifteen employees are additionally subject to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Both of these protect employees from sexual harassment in similar ways.
One thing about these laws that is confusing and somewhat illogical in Missouri is that you are not protected from sexual harassment if your employer sexually harasses both genders. You are only protected if the employer only harasses one gender. You can still report the harassment to HR or to a higher level supervisor, but they are not legally required to do anything about it. On that note, if they take action against you for reporting the incident, then you can file a retaliation claim.
The best thing that you can do if you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace is to contact the sexual harassment attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation. We will help you to understand how the law applies to your situation, whether or not you are protected, and what to do next if you have a valid claim for sexual harassment in the workplace.
What Do You Do About a Hostile Work Environment?
Many claims for hostile work environment sexual harassment fail because of the details, rather than the merits of the case. For example, if the employee does not report the situation to HR or to a higher level supervisor or manager, then the company may not be held liable for the hostile work environment. If it is a supervisor or manager who is engaging in the sexual harassment, then the company is automatically legally liable, even if you did not report the situation or make them aware of it. Yet, if it is a co-worker, then you are encouraged to notify your employer in writing if you want to be protected.
Written notification is not a requirement for protection, but it is highly advised because a verbal complaint can be disputed. You may later say that you informed someone of the harassment, but they may say that you didn’t. If you inform them in writing, and keep a copy for your records, then it will be much more difficult for anyone to deny that you did notify them of the inappropriate conduct. With that in mind, you should make every effort to gather and maintain evidence and records of what happened, when you reported it, who you reported it to, and what witnesses might have been there. Missouri law does allow you to record conversations without consent, so you would be wise to record evidence of any ongoing sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct. You can also record yourself notifying HR or a higher level supervisor or manager of the situation, and record their response. This can make a major difference in a sexual harassment claim that involves “he said, she said” arguments.
When to Contact a Sexual Harassment Attorney
Many people avoid taking action when sexual harassment occurs in the workplace. It can create an embarrassing situation, especially if you must repeat humiliating words or gestures to address your complaint. You may also be afraid of retaliation or creating a more difficult work environment than you are already facing. Yet, the longer you wait to do something about it, the worse the situation is likely to become and the more difficult it will be to establish a case against the offender or employer.
The attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm are here to help you every step of the way. We can assist with the process of notifying the employer, understanding and adhering to company policies, and addressing any retaliation that may occur.
We will also protect your rights, help you with gathering evidence, and ensure that your case is as solid as possible if further action is needed. In the vast majority of sexual harassment cases in Missouri and throughout the US, ignoring it and hoping that the situation improves is not helpful or effective. Rather, the situation will almost always grow worse with time, especially as the offender grows more confident that he or she can get away with it. In many cases, we see that sexual harassment has become a problem for multiple employees, all of whom decided not to speak out for similar reasons. So, speak out, and protect yourself and others from further illegal sexual harassment on the job.