Sexual Assault in the Workplace
Note: This was featured as part of our Wednesday segment on Charleston’s 105.5 The Bridge with Box in the Morning. You can catch us every other Wednesday morning at 8:50 am ET for the latest law tips and legal news. You can listen to the segment below:
Although both women and men suffer from workplace sexual harassment, the majority of cases involve the victimization of women. When you no longer feel safe at your job, it is damaging on your emotional health and your productivity as an employee. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual harassment, there are legal options available.
First, clearly tell the harasser that you are not interested in his or her overt sexual propositions. If the harassment continues or you feel endangered, immediately report the harassment to your employer. The employer should be able to reference a company handbook for further guidance on handling the situation. If there is no written policy, report the incident to the harasser’s supervisor. Ideally, the employer can stop the harassment by conducting an internal investigation and terminating or relocating the harasser.
If there is no authority overseeing the perpetrator, you can either contact your company’s HR department or report the harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In South Carolina, you can also contact a state division called the Human Affairs Commission. You can file a harassment claim with either department. According to Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act, you have a statute of limitations of 300 days to report the harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing a lawsuit. If you work for an employer with less than 15 employees, you can file a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under general tort law with a three year statute of limitations.
There are two different types of legally-recognized sexual harassment. The first is Quid Pro Quo, a situation where a term or condition of employment is dependent on a sexual favor. Alternatively, an employee or coworker could be punished by the harasser for rejecting a sexual advance.
To prosecute a Quid Pro Quo case, the victim must work for an employer with 15 or more employees, be subjected to an unwelcome advance that is sexual in nature and has an effect on your job, and the employer either must be aware or should have been aware that the harassment had occurred. This final provision is another reason why it is important to report any incidents. However, if a supervisor is responsible for the harassment, then the fifth provision will not apply since the perpetrator is in a position of power.
The second type of legal harassment case is known as a Hostile Work Environment. This situation isn’t defined by an overt advance by a single harasser. Instead, the overall work environment is toxic for the employee. For example, frank sexual discussion, the unwanted exposure of private body parts, and demeaning or degrading “jokes” can create an uncomfortable atmosphere.
To prosecute a Hostile Work Environment lawsuit, the workplace harassment must be characterized by frequent inappropriate conduct instead of an offhand remark. The harassment must be repeated and pervasive in a way that makes the employee feel fearful or threatened. Once again, this harassment should be reported since the employer is required to have known or should have known about the workplace environment. An exception is made if it can be proven that the sexual conduct was widely known throughout the place of employment.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual harassment in or outside of the workplace, contact John Price Law Firm for a consultation. We offer compassionate, experienced representation and can be reached at (843) 552-6011.