Understanding your rights when faced with sexual harassment is crucial. Laws at both the federal and state levels offer protections and remedies for victims, and options to hold companies and individuals accountable for their behavior.
Sexual Harassment Claims: Against Employers Only?
Typically, it is the employer who is held responsible for sexual harassment in the workplace. Complaints made to the government will be made against the employer, and this is a good thing. By making it your employer’s responsibility, the law incentivizes companies to take harassment claims seriously and act to punish the harasser.
However, individuals may still face consequences under different legal theories, such as if the harassment including assault, battery, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Additionally, if you are bringing a lawsuit for unlawful harassment, you may be able to sue both an individual and a company.
It’s important to consult with an attorney to understand the potential advantages and disadvantages of your options in your particular case. Each case is unique, and the best course of action depends on your specific circumstances.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. This type of harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviors, from subtle pressure for sexual favors to direct sexual advances.
It may also include lewd comments, unwelcome touching, offensive conduct, or any behavior unwelcome that is sexual in nature.
Federal laws related to sexual harassment primarily stem from the Federal Fair Employment Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and federal courts also significantly contribute because these laws aren’t highly detailed; therefore, the EEOC and the courts play a vital role in interpreting and enforcing them.
In Missouri, the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) provides protections against sexual harassment. Under the MHRA, it is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
In addition to the MHRA, local ordinances in Kansas City provide additional protections and options for filing a complaint against sexual harassment.
As always, federal law also everywhere. If a situation arises that is covered under city, state, and federal law, the victim can usually choose where to file a complaint. It’s important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best course of action.
What Constitutes Illegal Harassment in the Workplace?
Workplace harassment goes beyond the bounds of isolated incidents or petty slights. Sexual harassment in the workplace often involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe or pervasive that it affects the targeted individual’s work performance, creating a hostile work environment.
This can encompass a wide range of harassing behaviors, from subtle pressures for sexual favors to direct sexual advances, and offensive conduct that creates a work environment which a reasonable person would consider intimidating or abusive.
Am I Experiencing Workplace Harassment?
Identifying workplace harassment may not always be straightforward. Harassing conduct can range from explicit to more covert acts.
A single incident of unwelcome conduct may not necessarily rise to the level of harassment, but repeated or severe instances can constitute unlawful harassment. Examples include, but are not limited to, repeated sexual advances, lewd comments, or any offensive conduct that is sexual in nature.
Whether a particular action or incident is harassing conduct often depends on a case-by-case basis and how it is perceived by a reasonable person.
In sexual harassment cases, it is critical to remember that the harassing conduct must be unwelcome. This means that the victim did not solicit or incite it and regards the conduct as undesirable or offensive.
Understanding whether you are experiencing workplace harassment may require an examination of the pattern of behavior and its effect on your work environment.
Is My Employer Supposed to Prevent Sexual Harassment?
Absolutely. Employers have a legal obligation under both Missouri state laws and federal law to take steps to prevent harassment and to promptly address any reports of harassment. Companies are supposed to establish a sexual harassment policy, educate their employees about their rights and responsibilities under this policy, and enforce this policy promptly and effectively.
Employers who fail to prevent sexual harassment, or fail to address it when you report harassment, may be held liable for the harassing conduct. They could face a sexual harassment claim or even a sexual harassment lawsuit.
It is crucial to remember that employers are legally obligated to create a work environment that is free from sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Does the Law Protect Me From Being Sexually Harassed?
The law provides robust protections against sexual harassment and covers not only overt sexual behavior but also instances where employment decisions are based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The law generally protects employees against two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.
Quid Pro Quo
In a quid pro quo harassment case, an individual in a position of authority requests favors in exchange for a workplace benefit. This could be a promotion, a raise, or even continued employment.
Hostile Work Environment
On the other hand, hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct based on sex is so severe or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or abusive work environment.
It’s also worth noting that the law protects you from wrongful termination or any other adverse employment decision for making a good-faith complaint to eliminate harassment, even if an official investigation concludes no harassing conduct took place.
What If I Am Harassed Because of My Race, Sexual Orientation, National Origin, or Another Factor?
Sexual harassment may intersect with other forms of employment discrimination. This means that you may be subjected to harassing behavior not only because of your sex but also due to your race, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or another protected class. In such cases, it’s possible to file a complaint under multiple grounds.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex are all prohibited. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act provides protection for workers who are 40 years of age or older, while the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability.
If you are experiencing harassment due to any of these factors along with sexual harassment, your harassment claim could involve multiple areas of federal and state law.
Does My Immigration Status Affect My Right To Complain About Sexual Harassment?
No, your immigration status does not affect your right to complain about sexual harassment. Title VII protections against sexual harassment and discrimination apply to everyone working in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. Any form of retaliation for reporting harassment in good faith is also against the law.
However, it is always wise to talk to a harassment attorney right away to understand all the possible implications of reporting harassment.
Filing a Harassment Complaint with Your Company’s HR Department
The first step in addressing sexual harassment is usually to file a harassment complaint with your company’s Human Resources department. Companies are required to have a process in place to address complaints of sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment.
When filing a harassment complaint, be as specific as possible about the harassing conduct, providing details of the incidents including the dates, times, locations, and any witnesses. This not only helps in the investigation but also serves to establish a record of the harassing behavior. Remember, making a complaint to your employer is an essential step in protecting your legal rights and remedies.
Filing a Complaint with Federal or Missouri Authorities
If the harassment continues despite reporting it to your employer, or if your employer retaliates against you for making a complaint, you may also file a complaint with federal or Missouri authorities.
Note, however, that there are specific time limits for filing a complaint with both these agencies, the shortest being 180 days. Ask your lawyer for more details on the deadlines to be certain you don’t miss them.
How to Prepare to Sue for Harassment
Before filing a lawsuit for sexual harassment, it’s crucial to gather all the evidence you can to substantiate your claim. Document all instances of harassing behavior, including dates, times, locations, what happened, and any witnesses. Retain any relevant emails, text messages, or other forms of communication that demonstrate the harassment.
Also, keep a record of any negative employment actions or adverse employment decisions that occurred as a result of the harassment, such as demotions, pay cuts, or wrongful termination.
Before you can file a lawsuit, you are typically required to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This process, known as “exhausting your administrative remedies,” is an essential step in the process. In Missouri, you can also file a charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
Finally, consult with an experienced harassment lawyer who can guide you through the process, help you collect and preserve evidence, navigate the filing process, and represent you in court if necessary.
The law is on your side, providing protections and remedies for victims of harassment. Contact us at Holman Schiavone, LLC at 816-399-5149 right away for a free consultation and let us fight for your rights.