Sexual Harassment

sexual harassment at work copy

No-one should endure being the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Over the last decade sexual harassment has been one of the most highly publicized areas of employment law. Even after the incorporation of workplace sensitivity training and “zero tolerance” policies, sexual harassment still exists in businesses throughout central Florida.

The attorneys of the Sigman & Sigman, P.A. have been active advocates for sexual harassment victims throughout Central Florida since 1992.

Sexual harassment occurs in many different contexts and forms.  The sexual harasser might be a company owner, a supervisor, a manager, a ‘lead’ person, a foreperson, a co-worker, a subordinate employee, or a group or combination of people in the workplace.  Some workplaces foster and tolerate a sexually harassing environment where the employees feel free to engage in sexually harassing conduct without concern.  In some circumstances, employees may even be subjected to sexual harassment from customers, vendors, contractors and others who interact with them in the workplace.

Not all employers are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992.  But those employers who are covered by these laws are prohibited from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sex.  Through court rulings over the course of many years, sexual harassment has been found to be a type of gender discrimination.  So when an employee complains of or sues based upon sexual harassment, he or she is actually complaining of sexual or gender discrimination.  Sometimes the sexual harassment also crosses over into behavior which is a civil tort or criminal violation (such as for example assault and battery).  In any form, sexual harassment typically leaves the victim feeling violated, humiliated and powerless.  Sexual harassment at work can affect a victim’s mental health, home life and general well-being, in addition to harming work-enjoyment and work-performance.

Sexual harassment law covers both men and women.  Men are protected from sexual harassment in the same manner as women are protected.  The Supreme Court has also ruled that sexual harassment can be found to occur even in a single-gender workplace.   The case law has developed a complex and fact-specific set of rules and standards that apply to the analysis of whether particular facts and circumstances will or will not constitute actionable “sexual harassment” in court.

A person who feels that sexual harassment is occurring or has occurred in his or her workplace should consult legal counsel for guidance as to how to handle the situation.  People often do not seek legal counsel until late in the process, when they have already made errors in the way that they handled the situation.  Experienced legal counsel can advise and guide a person as to their rights and how to best protect themselves in the situation.

Sexual harassment is generally described as any unwelcome sexual behavior in the workplace. Such behavior can take many forms such as for example:

  • Physical Sexual Harassment: unwelcome physical embraces, kissing, groping, grabbing, touching personal areas, brushing against or patting;

  • Verbal Sexual Harassment: sexual innuendos, sexual questions, descriptions of sexual acts, ‘come-ons’, sexual propositions, derogatory sexual comments, statements about intimate body parts, and crude or “dirty” jokes;

  • Visual Sexual Harassment: pictures of naked men or women or sexually suggestive pictures, posters, signs, cartoons, or drawings.

The total facts and circumstances must be considered and evaluated in determining whether unlawful sexual harassment has occurred.  Experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel should be consulted as to this issue.

People who properly object to illegal harassment in the workplace have certain legal protections against retaliation.  This includes people complaining on behalf of themselves or on behalf of others.

It is important to note that sexual harassment also occurs in the non-workplace context such as when a doctor, therapist, teacher, counselor or minister or pastor abuses his or her power in the relationship and takes sexual advantage of a patient, client or congregation-member.  The power imbalance in such situations is akin to the power imbalance in workplace sexual harassment situations.  Those in positions of power or authority do not have the right to take sexual advantage of their subjects.  The attorneys at Sigman & Sigman P.A. have experience and knowledge in handling these complex issues of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, even if they occur outside of an employment relationship.

If you believe that you have been a victim of unlawful sexual harassment or you are concerned that others in your workplace have been subjected to unlawful sexual harassment, contact the law firm of Sigman & Sigman, P.A. or other attorneys of your choice for a confidential legal consultation.  Employers and those in power positions usually have lawyers advising and guiding them in these circumstances – employees are entitled to seek such counsel for themselves and ‘level the playing field’.