When does crude behavior cross the line into sexual harassment?

It is not unusual for Louisiana workers to occasionally hear other employees make off-color jokes or crude comments in the workplace. But when do these behaviors rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment?

It is not always an easy determination to make, and whether conduct constitutes sexual harassment will depend on the specific facts involved. Occasional joking or teasing does not necessarily constitute sexual harassment. But if the jokes and teasing are so frequent and pervasive that they create a hostile working environment, they constitute sexual harassment and the victim can bring a claim for damages.

Sexual harassment also occurs when it results in the firing or demotion of the victim, or any adverse action such as reassignment to a less favorable position. Furthermore, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or manager suggests to an employee that they risk losing their job or not being promoted if they don't give sexual favors. Unwanted sexual advances are another common form of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is often thought of in terms of men harassing women. But it can involve women harassing men, and the harasser can be the same gender as the victim. The harasser can be a co-worker, a manager or a customer of the business. When an employer learns of sexual harassment in the workplace they have a legal duty to take prompt action to stop it. If they fail to do so, they can face liability.

Ultimately, sexual harassment is about the harasser attempting to exert power over the victim. But a victim of harassment has the right to fight back. By making a sexual harassment claim against the harasser and the employer, the victim can send a powerful message that the conduct is wrong. Likewise, the victims can recover compensation for the harm done.

Source: EEOC.gov, "Sexual Harassment," accessed Feb. 14, 2015

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