What is sexual harassment? A lawyer’s response.
Sexual harassment is rampant in many workplaces. Sometimes it can take extreme forms (for example, sexual assault), but other times it can be created through offensive and inappropriate comments that a supervisor or coworker considers to be “just joking.” Unwanted sexual conduct and comments can turn an otherwise perfect job into a nightmare.
There are two categories of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment, and
- Hostile work environment.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or person with authority conditions an employee’s job or job benefits on the acceptance of sexual advances or conduct, or when the supervisor makes employment decisions based on whether the employee accepted the sexual advances/conduct. A supervisor can engage in quid pro quo sexual harassment in a number of ways, including with sexual propositions, graphic discussions of sexual acts, and sexual comments on the employee’s body.
It does not need to be explicit. For example, if a supervisor insinuates that an employee will have to sleep with him to advance in the company, that is quid pro quo sexual harassment. Having to submit to sexual advances–or even having to laugh along to someone’s inappropriate sexual jokes–should never be a factor in whether someone succeeds at work. . . .
06 Jan '15
People are almost always surprised to learn that, despite the serious harms that they can cause, workplace bullying and hostile work environments are not illegal unless motivated by discriminatory or retaliatory bias that the law specifically prohibits. The short version: being a jerk to everyone is, well, perfectly legal.
Workplace bullying can be devastating. Those who are bullied feel humiliated and demoralized. The bullying can literally make them sick, causing stress and anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and other illnesses. Employers also suffer as absenteeism increases, morale and productivity decline, and companies lose good employees.
Workplace bullying is also far too prevalent. A national survey conducted by Zogby found that 27% of people have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it happen. 7% of those surveyed said they were currently being bullied at work. The consequences of bullying were severe: 48% of those who were bullied said that they left their jobs or felt forced to quit because of the bullying, while 13% were terminated (probably in retaliation for speaking up), and another 13% were transferred to a different position.
You say it’s a “hostile work environment.” But is that workplace bully breaking the law? The answer may surprise you.
So your boss/supervisor is a jerk. He’s mean, abusive, and he talks down to you. He embarrasses you in front of others and he diminishes your work. You think he may be sabotaging you and intentionally setting you up to fail. Surely he’s breaking the law and you have a case, right?
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- Ms. Mizrahi was elected as an officer of the State Bar of California Labor & Employment Law Section.
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- Ms. Mizrahi has been selected as a Pasadena Magazine Top Attorney.
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