In New York State and across the country, sexual harassment of employees is being treated with much more seriousness than it once was. It is a common topic of discussion and everyone who has been subjected to this type of treatment and violation of employment law has the right to be heard. However, employers are under siege, often for factors they were either unaware of or that did not meet the threshold to be considered sexual harassment. This can lead to lawsuits that will take time and money to defend as well as a negative perception in the public sphere.
For employers, instituting policies to protect workers is key. Before doing so, it is imperative to understand exactly what sexual harassment is from the employer’s perspective so it can be dealt with and allegations of it can be defended against effectively. Sexual harassment falls into a variety of categories and is not simply related to an employer, supervisor or colleague making untoward remarks or committing inappropriate acts. It can be based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex and more.
The conduct can be unwelcome if it is sexual or if it is directed at a person if it interferes with the person’s work, intimidates them, creates a work environment that is hostile or offensive. The person who is affected does not necessarily need to be the target. Simply overhearing or witnessing it is sufficient. If it is explicit or implicit as a condition of employment or submitting or rejecting the conduct will influence any decision related to employment, it is sexual harassment.
Employers should be aware that jokes, words, signs, violence of a physical nature and are sexual in scope can be considered sexual harassing behaviors. Unwanted sexual advances, negative comments, discriminatory remarks of a sexual nature also fall into this category. If there is an allegation that a person in authority attempted to exchange sexual favors for advancement or to maintain a job – quid pro quo – it is against the law.
Not all cases in which an employee alleges that sexual harassment took place or there was a violation of employment law meet the necessary requirements to be considered sexual harassment and warrant compensation or a lawsuit. A law firm that is knowledgeable with employment law for employers can help to defend against sexual harassment accusations, especially in today’s climate.