What is Sexual Harassment?

Most Americans support their families, obtain health coverage and achieve a sense of dignity and accomplishment from their work. However, unlike our private lives, we do not get to pick who we choose to work with. As a result, in the United States, co-workers are not permitted to interfere with our jobs or our ability to earn a living.

Thus, the working environment can not be intimidating because of sexual issues and make distinctions between men and women. Florida and Federal law prohibit sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.

Sexual harassment is any kind of conduct in the workplace that makes sex or sexual issues a part of the workplace environment. For example, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment. When this conduct affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, it is definitely illegal under the Florida and Federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment may arise in a variety of circumstances as follows:

  • The employee being harassed may be a woman or a man.

  • It is illegal for a supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee to sexual harasses any person at work.

  • Every employee is protected and does not have to be the person actually harassed, but could be anyone affected by the offensive sexual misconduct.

  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

The employee who is the target of sexual harassment should inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If the sexual harasser will not stop, even after they know the behavior is unwanted, the employee should tell their supervisor, or use a company complaint process (if one exists).

If a complaint is made, the company is required under the law to investigate. The employee who has made the complaint may not be punished, or retaliated against, for reporting the misconduct. If the employee who complained is punished (demoted, suspended, terminated or even intimidated) that is illegal and may permit the employee to recover a substantial award of punitive damages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is because our society wants the victims of sexual harassment to feel they can come forward without being punished or losing their job.

Similarly, it is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation involving sexual harassment.

If you have a question about whether you have been subjected to sexual harassment or punished for reporting sexual harassment, please feel free to give us a call. We do not charge for consultations and under the law everything you tell us is confidential until you decide.

Please keep in mind that when you challenge inappropriate workplace behavior you are not only asserting your right to work in a workplace free of sexual harassment, you are protecting our daughters and sons from being bullied or intimidated because of sex- It simply makes the workplace safer and more secure for everyone in our community.