Valentine’s Day at work: Cupid or stupid?

rasha-zeyadehSexual harassment in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. It has always been an issue. In light of the #Metoo movement, employees nationwide are more willing to publicly condemn their harassers and hold employers accountable for their inaction. As Valentine’s Day approaches, this blog will highlight various examples of sexual harassment in the workplace, and explore behaviors that, while inappropriate, do not rise to the level of sexual harassment.  

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC guidelines define sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • • Submission to such conduct is a term or condition of an individual’s employment. 
  • • Submission or rejection of the conduct is a basis for employment decisions.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. 

Notably, the sexual harassment must be unwelcome. The sexual conduct is unwelcome if the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome. 

There are two types of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo sexual harassment and (2) hostile work environment sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment refers to sexual harassment that conditions employment decisions – like promotions, assignments, or keeping your job – on your willingness to submit to sexual harassment. On the other hand, hostile work environment sexual harassment refers to sexual harassment that makes your workplace intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

What constitutes sexual harassment varies and is analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Sexual harassment might include unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. It may also include direct or indirect bribes for sexual activity. Inappropriate jokes, sexual innuendos or sexually suggestive narratives may constitute sexual harassment. Unwelcome touching or brushing against a person, or displays of explicit material may also be sexual harassment. Additionally, sexual assault, whether attempted or completed, is sexual harassment. 

For example, Kim Dashian works for West University. Her colleague, Narry Lassar, always flirts with her. He compliments her appearance, asks about her boyfriend, and tells her stories about his sexual escapades. Lassar occasionally bumps into Dashian in the hallway and pretends to “inadvertently” rub his hand across her buttocks. Initially, Dashian thought Lassar’s actions were inadvertent and harmless. However, as she continued to work with Lassar, his sexual harassment continued and increased. Lassar’s touching became more blatant and intentional. Lassar asked Dashian her bra size and showed her photos of lingerie sales. At that point, Dashian told Lassar she was uncomfortable with his behavior and asked that he remain professional in the workplace. Lassar, however, ignored Dashian’s request. On Valentine’s Day, he gave Dashian a bouquet of flowers with a card that read, “Be my Valentine. I have the BIG package you need.” 

In the above hypothetical, Lassar was Dashian’s colleague, not boss. While he could not condition Dashian’s continued employment upon her willingness to submit to sexual favors, he did subject Dashian to an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Lassar ignored Dashian’s request that he cease his behavior and continued to subject her to unwelcome sexual harassment. 

On the other hand, had Narry Lassar merely asked Kim Dashian on a date on a single occasion and then ceased his behavior upon learning she was not interested in dating him, his actions would not constitute sexual harassment. Similarly, had Lassar gifted Dashian with Valentine’s Day flowers and simply wrote, “Happy Valentine’s Day” with nothing more, his actions would likely not constitute sexual harassment. 

 

If you have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, you should report the harassment to your employer – HR, a manager, or an ethics hotline. If your employer fails to assist you with your claim – This could include failing to take your complaint seriously, refusing to conduct an investigation or conducting a less than thorough investigation, retaliating against you for filing a complaint, and forcing you to continue to work with the sexual harasser, among other things. – you can file a complaint of sex-based discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Bear in mind that you must file your complaint with the TWC within 180 days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180-day filing deadline is extended to 300 days for a complaint filed with the EEOC. 

In the end, I understand the difficulty of fighting your employer while also navigating state and federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment. The trauma associated with sexual harassment alone is overwhelming and consuming. At the Law Office of Rob Wiley, P.C., we can fight on your behalf and provide a sounding board for your sexual harassment claim. Everyone is entitled to safety and equality in the workplace every single day, not just on Valentine’s Day. If you have been subjected to inequality or sexual harassment, do not hesitate to contact us to fight for you!

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