Federal Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature such as unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching or language or unwanted requests for sexual favors. The conduct does not have to be sexual in nature.  Derogatory comments about a person's gender that are non-sexual can still be considered illegal.


Sexual harassment becomes illegal when the inappropriate conduct is continuous and interferes with an individual's work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.  This type of harassment is called hostile work environment harassment.  Simple, one time events such as a sexual joke or comment generally will not rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment.


It's also illegal to require an employee to endure sexual harassment as a condition of employment.  In other words, telling an employee that they must "endure hostile environment harassment" to be hired for or keep a position is illegal.


Additionally, illegal sexual harassment can occur when a manager or supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for positive or negative tangible employment decisions like hiring, termination, promotions or demotions.  This type of harassment is called Quid Pro Quo.  Quid Pro Quo harassment is illegal the first time it occurs.


Sexual harassment can occur between a man and a woman and two men or two women.  The gender of the perpetrator and the victim is irrelevant.  Additionally, sexual harassment can occur between an employee and persons not employed by his or her organization such as delivery drivers, customers, vendors or consultants. Sexual harassment can occur in any location where an employee is representing his or her employer such as a work party, a sales call or a business trip.


Retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint is also illegal.  Retaliation often takes the form of threats, bullying, demotions, terminations, job transfers or being given undesirable work assignments.  However, retaliation is any action that the negative action taken against the employee who filed the claim as a result of filing the claim.


Sexual harassment can result in disciplinary actions up to and including termination.  In some states (like California) the perpetrator is personally responsible in civil court for his or her actions.


Some states such as California, Connecticut, and Maine have state laws that are more stringent than federal laws that must be followed.

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