Employers need to take these risks seriously
In recent years, plenty of media attention has been given to the risks of sexual harassment in the workplace, and for good reason. Sexual harassment isn't just inappropriate; it affects people's careers, their safety, and even their physical health.
A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that women who had experienced workplace sexual harassment had a significantly higher incidence of high blood pressure (hypertension) when controlling for other factors. The study found a similar correlation between sexual assault and hypertension and noted that women who had experienced both sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment had the highest incidence of high blood pressure.
The same study also found that workplace sexual harassment is quite common. About 12% of the women studied reported that they had experienced sexual harassment at work.
Understanding the legal definition of workplace sexual harassment
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines workplace sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature." While there are many behaviors that can constitute sexual harassment, they broadly fall into two categories:
- Quid pro quo: a person in authority demands sexual favors or tolerance of sexual behavior as a condition of continued employment, advancement, or getting or keeping a job benefit (e.g., bonuses, raises, preferable work hours, or better assignments). The law takes a particularly dim view of quid pro quo harassment because of the power dynamics involved; usually, a single incident is enough to support a claim.
- Hostile work environment: the presence of unwelcome sexualized behavior that is pervasive and severe enough to make the entire working environment offensive or abusive. This can include anything from sexual jokes, comments, and innuendo to unwelcome sexual advances and touching. Usually, hostile work environment claims are based on a pattern of behavior rather than a single incident.
At the federal level, sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Incidents at smaller employers are covered by state law. In West Virginia, the relevant state law is the West Virginia Human Rights Act, which applies to all public employers and to private employers with 12 or more employees.
Although most of the media attention around sexual harassment in the workplace has focused on women being harassed by men, it's important to note that both the perpetrator and the victim of sexual harassment can be of any gender.
If you're a victim of harassment at work, get an experienced attorney
You have a right to a workplace free of illegal harassment, and if your employer isn't providing a safe environment, you have legal recourse. Our job is to protect your rights. In a free, confidential consultation, one of our attorneys will explain your options and help you find your path forward. There's no cost and no obligation, just an empathetic ear and straight answers about your legal rights.
If you've been harassed at work, we would be honored to help you find your voice. Contact Klie Law Offices today to speak with an experienced West Virginia harassment attorney.