In recent years there has been much discussion about the subject of sexual harassment in the workspace. This has been due to a number of highly publicized cases involving sexual harassment as well as the unfortunate fact that instances of employment-related sexual harassment are widespread.
Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of state and federal law. Both Florida and Federal Law provide remedies for employment-related sexual harassment. In Florida, the civil rights statutes, worker compensation statutes, and common law causes of action such as battery and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, are all available to the adversely affected employee. Under Federal Law, Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, applies to charges of sexual harassment, as does Title IX, in the consent of federally funded education programs.
Any form of unwelcome physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature may constitute sexual harassment. The most extreme form of sexual harassment occurs when an employee is threatened with or is actually fired from a job because the employee rejected sexual demands. This is referred to as "Quid pro Quo" sexual harassment. However, a determination of sexual harassment does not depend on whether the victim was threatened with the loss of a job or other benefit. Conduct which unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment is also prohibited by law. This is referred to as "Hostile Work Environment" sexual harassment. In addition, retaliation by an employer against anyone who resists sexual harassment or who reports acts of sexual harassment involving co-workers is illegal.
Examples of conduct which may be prohibited by law include but are not limited to, the following:
* Unwanted sexual advances, flirtations or propositions.
* Demands for sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment or continued employment.
* Unwanted sexually oriented jokes or remarks.
* Verbal abuse of a sexual nature.
* A display in the workspace of sexually suggestive objects, pictures, posters or reading materials.
* A coerced sexual act or assault.
* Physical contact of a sexual nature such as pinching, grabbing, patting or brushing unnecessarily against another person's body.
* Leering, whistling or gestures of a sexual nature.
In cases of sexual harassment, there is frequently a question of when the
employer is responsible for the actions of its managers and employees. Although every case is unique and the facts of each case will determine its outcome, employers are often held to account for the actions of managers and supervisors. Therefore, an employer should take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise the issue of sexual harassment, establishing a reasonably accessible procedure by which victims of sexual harassment can make their complaints known, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.
Under the Federal and Florida Civil Rights Statutes, injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, attorneys fees and costs as well as compensatory and punitive damages may be available to a victim of sexual harassment. However, recourse to these statutes is dependent upon the employer having 15 or more employees. In order to pursue claims under either Federal or Florida Civil Rights Statutes, the injured employee must first file administrative claims with either the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Florida Commission on Human Relations as a precondition to filing a civil lawsuit. If you would like further information on the filing requirements and procedures of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, please call 1-800-669-4000; or with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, please call 1-800-342-8170.
If you believe that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, or you are an employer who wishes to protect its employees, you should consider consulting with an attorney who is experienced in dealing with these issues.
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