Sexual harassment charges tend to be civil in nature, unless the harassment involves some kind of criminal battery such as touching, fondling, or sexual assault. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, repeated sexual advances, or requests for sexual favors. Two types of sexual harassment common in the workplace, quid pro quo and hostile work environment, generally form the basis of the sexual harassment charges.
Quid pro quo entails the harasser requiring a sexual response in exchange for promotions, continued employment, or cessation of hostile behavior toward the employee. If the harasser touches or attacks the victim, police may be called and criminal assault, battery, even attempted rape charges may ensue. Hostile work environment, or a continued pattern of sexually offensive remarks or displayed materials can interfere with work performance and cause undue stress. An employee need not be affected directly to file sexual harassment charges.
Companies involved in investigations must prove that they attempted to correct the situation when notified. If they cannot, they may be subject to a lawsuit and may have to pay substantial damages to the complainant. Sexual harassment charges against the company can fall under discrimination, unfair labor practices, or civil torts, for which penalties can be stiff. The company involved may suffer substantial monetary losses and damage to their reputation. They should be aware that they can also be held liable for third party harassment perpetrated by customers or vendors if they fail to maintain a safe working environment.
Victims should first attempt to rectify the situation at work. The conduct needs to be addressed directly and employees should follow company policy in reporting the harassment, should confrontation prove ineffective. If nothing is done, the employee must file sexual harassment charges within 180 days of the incident with the appropriate agency or the EEOC before taking any action under Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964. The complaint will be evaluated and if it has merit, the EEOC will either sue on behalf of the employee or provide a document stating right-to-sue so a sexual harassment lawsuit can be filed.
A person cannot be fired for filing sexual harassment charges or the employer may face retaliation charges. The company can, under at-will employment, terminate the employee for other reasons despite the harassment complaint. An employee who thinks retaliation may be the reason for termination should notify the investigating party. It is wise to follow all work rules during this time to negate retaliation as an excuse to terminate a problem employee. If litigation becomes necessary, the employee should find a competent sexual harassment attorney.