How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

posted by Daniel Stevens  |  Sep 7, 2018 12:07 PM [EST]  |  applies to California


How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Do you know how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace? Although sexual harassment within the workplace is against the law in California, it remains a hot-button issue in the media as well as the courtroom. Employers and organizations are required by the Fair Employment and Housing Act to maintain a safe work environment that is free from sexual harassment, yet this duty merely requires that the employer or organization take “reasonable steps” in attempting to achieve this harassment-free environment. In recent news stories, more employees, applicants, and interns have come forward to reveal unlawful treatment that he or she has endured within the workplace. It remains unresolved what exactly is the most effective way to promote change within the workplace to prevent sexual harassment. Until this issue is resolved, however, it is argued that employees should be informed of their right and to know what constitutes a hostile work environment. If an employee feels that they have a situation at their place of work that raises issues such as these, it is important to contact a Sexual Harassment Attorney to discuss the facts of their potential case.


A Sexual Harassment Attorney can help in situations where there is a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment.  In EEOC v. Prospect Airport Servs., 621 F. 3d  991, 2010 U.S. App. a suit was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act regarding the wrongful termination of an employee, the Commission claimed that this particular employee was unlawfully subjected to a hostile work environment. The former employee that the case concerned, alleged that he had been subjected to continuous sexual advances made by another female co-worker. These sexual advances and inappropriate behavior consisted of the female co-worker sending written love notes to the employee, sharing suggestive photos of herself, sending romantic messages to the employee via other employees, making offensive sexual gestures that imitated oral-sex, and cat-called him as he passed by certain areas of the workplace.  This continued for an extensive amount of time in which the employee made several complaints to his managers and supervisors. Some complaints went ignored while other responses to the complaints were disproportionate to the gravity of the situation in that it was not effective in remedying the issue.


How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace


The Court, in this case, found that the employee did have a hostile work environment claim for three reasons.  The first reason was because the employee was able to present sufficient evidence to show that it was a question of fact as to whether or not he encouraged the sexual acts by his co-worker even after he had verbally rejected her on several occasions. The employee presented evidence to dispute that he was not encouraging his female coworker by showing he sought continuing medical attention for the anxiety and stress that she caused through her sexual advances. Secondly, the co-worker’s propositioning occurred frequently enough that it was reasonable for the employee to perceive her behavior as “hostile and abusive”. Thirdly, the extent of the female co-worker’s pervasiveness in addition to the employer’s insufficient response to the situation was enough for the issue to go to a jury to decide whether the co-worker’s conduct was the leading cause of the hostile atmosphere.


The case above shows that if an employee brings a suit against their employer or organization concerning the acts of fellow employees, it strengthens the case if the co-worker’s behavior takes place more than once. The continuous behavior is more important when a plaintiff is attempting to make their case against a co-worker, however, it is not the same high standard when making a case against a supervisor. If an employee experiences a sexual assault committed by a supervisor on himself or herself, it may be enough to satisfy a claim against the employer for a hostile work environment. This was demonstrated in Dee v. Vintage Petroleum, Inc, (2003) 106 CA4th 30, 35, 129 CR2d 923, 927. Although this case involved a racial slur, the Court, in that case, found that even though there was one single incident, it was sufficient for the plaintiff to establish a hostile work environment.


How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace


How severe does the conduct have to be for the work environment to be considered hostile? In deciding whether a work environment is considered hostile due to sexual harassment, the nature of the unacceptable behavior must be taken into account. For instance, a set of facts that consist of subtle comments, or a single comment may not carry as much weight as a sexual assault allegation or horseplay that is sexual in nature. The case of Hocevar v. Purdue Frederick Co. (8th Cir. 2000) 223 F3d 721, 738, provides an example of what would not be considered conduct that was severe enough to amount to a “hostile” work environment. In that case, a few remarks that the employee found offensive accompanied by an unwelcome slow dance at a company event, were not considered by the Court to amount to being severe enough to amount to a hostile work environment. An invitation to dinner by a supervisor may not constitute hostile work environment  either if it only occurred one or two times (Murray  v. Chicago Transit Auth. (7th Cir. 2001) 252F3d 880, 889)Even a single email written by a fellow co-worker that contains insulting remark(s) about another employee may not rise to the level of a hostile work environment even if the remark is made regarding part of the of the employee’s body or lack of intelligence.

(Brennan Townsend & O’Leary Enterprises Inc. (2011) 199 CA 4th 1336, 1353, 132 CR3d 292, 305) In measuring the severity of certain inappropriate conduct within the workplace, in order to decide if it is hostile, if the conduct occurs frequently, its severity does not have to be as high to find that there is indeed a hostile work environment (Ellison v. Brady (9th Cir. 1991) 924 F2d 872, 878)


In conclusion, the more knowledge an employee has about their rights, the more likely they will be able to protect himself or herself within the workplace even if their employer is not taking adequate reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace. With this knowledge, an employee may also have enough evidence gathered to call a  Sexual Harassment Attorney in their area to discuss what remedies may be available.


Source:  How to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

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