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What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

West Virginia employment lawyerLast year, public recognition of sexual harassment accusations in Hollywood broke a dam that had been holding back similar accusations across the nation in all industries for as long as anyone could remember. The #MeToo movement took off, changing the conversation so strongly that Time Magazine named “The Silence Breakers” as their Person of the Year. As this conversation continues and more harassment accusations come to light, one important matter that needs to be understood is what, exactly, sexual harassment is.

Definitions for the Workplace

CBS News and CBS This Morning worked with Allison West to provide a general overview of what does, and doesn’t, constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. West is an employment attorney and HR specialist who travels the country providing workplace harassment training, and used her experience in the matter to answer many questions employees and employers may have about workplace harassment. She defined two primary forms of workplace harassment.

One, quid pro quo, is described by West as “You give me the sex that I want and in exchange I’ll either give you something or I’ll take it away. So it can be a punishment as well.” Any case when a sexual favor is expected with the promise of reward if given and/or punishment if refused would fall under this category.

The other, a hostile work environment, is more complicated. In order to be legally considered workplace harassment, West explained, the behavior must be unwelcome, offensive, and severe or pervasive. Some jurisdictions also require that it be directed at an individual because of a legally protected aspect of their identity, like religion, gender, or sexuality. West noted that, while this is the legal requirement, most workplaces will hold a more strict view. She noted, “Really, no good employer in our country is going to have the legal definition in their policy, because why would you want the conduct to be severe or pervasive, right?”

Available Resources

While the CBS article was geared toward providing an overview of general rules and a few high profile examples, there are more specific options for those who feel they may be under harassment. The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services, a collection of statewide crisis centers, includes a detailed page about sexual harassment and ways that it can manifest. This is a great start, but it is still only a guide. Ultimately, each harassment case is unique and must be examined by professionals who understand the law, will listen to your story, and are concerned with ensuring you receive the justice you deserve. An attorney with experience in workplace harassment, who will put your best interests first, can help identify if you have a legal case and can help pursue your options. Contact us today to take the next step in making your story heard.

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