You walk into your office and a co-worker makes a sexually suggestive comment about your appearance and this co-worker has repeatedly made such comments in the past. Or, you have a performance evaluation with your supervisor who insinuates that if you engage in sexual conduct with them, you will get a promotion. These are prime examples (and, unfortunately, common examples) of workplace sexual harassment.
Harassment can, in some circumstances, be difficult to define. For example, an offhand comment or annoyance typically does not rise to the level of violating the law. On the other hand, if you are subjected to repeated sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate statements, physical or verbal assault, or ridicule that creates a hostile work environment, you may have the basis for a harassment claim.
Sexual Harassment Defined
Generally, Florida law defines sexual harassment as undesirable sexual advances, demands for sexual favors, or other sexual connotation when (i) your employment is overtly affected, (ii) your workflow is unjustly interrupted, or (iii) an offensive and hostile work environment is created.
Inappropriate Comments and Actions that Can Create a Hostile Work Environment
Each case is different, so the facts of your case must be reviewed thoroughly to assess whether there is a basis for a sexual harassment claim. Below are some examples of sexual harassment that often create a hostile and toxic work environment:
- Sending e-mails or text messages that are sexually suggestive and inappropriate for a workplace environment;
- Telling vulgar jokes in the office;
- Making sexual hand gestures;
- Inappropriate comments about a co-worker’s physical appearance; and/or
- Patting, rubbing, or inappropriately touching a co-worker.
Holding Your Employer Accountable
You can hold your employer accountable for subjecting you to a hostile work environment, or if a supervisor takes retaliatory action against you. Retaliatory actions include being denied a promotion, being terminated, and a sudden decrease in pay or benefits.
In addition, an employer may be held liable for harassment by regular employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
The only way an employer can try to avoid liability for creating a hostile work environment is if it can produce evidence showing:
- Reasonable steps were taken to correct and prevent the harassing behavior and
- You failed to take advantage of these corrective actions made by your employer.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
If you decide to move forward with a sexual harassment claim against your employer, you are legally obligated to first file an administrative complaint with either the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is necessary so the agency can conduct a discovery process to determine whether it can impose a legal remedy. Or, the agency will inform you that you have the right to file a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment.
Contact an Experienced Fort Lauderdale Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
The administrative process, and subsequent civil litigation, can be handled by an experienced Fort Lauderdale sexual harassment lawyer. Attorney Mark J. Berkowitz has been practicing labor and employment law for nearly two decades. He has assisted both private sector and public sector employees throughout the State of Florida. Contact his office today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.