Many workers struggle with sexual harassment. They dread going into work because they are being propositioned by a boss or subject to a constant barrage of sexual commentary, such as slurs, jokes, or even provocative imagery.
At our law firm, we hear from clients who state they delayed seeking legal help because of certain information they read on the internet which proved to be wrong, unhelpful, and dangerous. Below, our employee rights attorney explodes six of the major myths about sexual harassment.
Myth #1: Only Women Can Be Sexually Harassed
This is flat out untrue. The reality is that all people can be sexually harassed, and both men and women have rights under anti-discrimination law. Both men and women can be victims, and the perpetrator can be either a man or woman.
Now it may be true that, statistically speaking, more women are harassed than men. But this does not mean that men aren’t protected from sexual harassment.
Myth #2: Sexual Harassment is Only Illegal when it is Intolerable
This is not true, though we understand the source of the confusion. A hostile workplace is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. However, not every workplace is hostile simply because one or two jokes or sexual slurs were used.
Instead, the test is whether a “reasonable person” would find the workplace hostile, abusive, or offensive. In reality, some people find any discussion of sex mortifying, even non-explicit discussions of dating. This type of “eggshell” plaintiff is not automatically entitled to protection.
It might be hard for you to decide if your workplace is sufficiently offensive or hostile. For example, being groped even once is probably enough. But one or two jokes spaced out over the course of months might not be.
One thing is certain, though. As the Supreme Court of the United States stated, a victim does not have to suffer a nervous breakdown to seek protection under sexual harassment law. If you believe your workplace is hostile, please reach out to us so we can review your situation.
Myth #3: Sexual Harassment Always Involves Sexual Propositions
Wrong! Of course, sexual propositions are a classic example of sexual harassment when they take the form of a quid pro quo—an offer to exchange “this for that.” A classic example is a boss propositioning a subordinate in exchange for a promotion or threatening to fire a subordinate if he or she does not consent to sex. When the employee refuses these advances, a tangible negative employment action results. However, sexual harassment is much broader than quid pro quo.
Myth #4: My Workplace Isn’t Hostile Because No One is Flirting with Me
Wrong again! In fact, a workplace can be hostile based on non-flirtatious behavior. For example, someone who makes gross generalizations about men or women—“Women are terrible bosses” or “All men are abusers”—is possibly contributing to a hostile environment based on sex, even though the statements are not expressive of sexual desire. The key is whether the conduct rises to the level that an objective person would find it offensive and difficult to continue working there.
Importantly, you might not even be the target of the harassing conduct. In a famous case a supervisor was being forced by her manager to give preferential treatment to attractive employees who the manager wanted to date. The court found that the supervisor was sexually harassed even though she was not the manager’s target. However, if you feel harassed and the environment is objectively offensive or hostile, then you have important legal rights.
Myth #5: Only Supervisors Can Sexually Harass Someone
Not true. A person can be sexually harassed by a coworker and even non-employees, like customers or vendors. We encourage clients to carefully document all offensive conduct and the sources of it.
Myth #6: The Only Remedy is Getting Your Job Back
There are many potential remedies, depending on the circumstances. For example, a victim of sexual harassment could receive reinstatement into a job or promotion. However, they could also receive other remedies, such as back pay and even compensation for emotional distress.
We Represent Those Victimized by Sexual Harassment
Experiencing sexual harassment can be disorientating. Take your power back by calling Wagner Zemming Christensen LLP today to schedule your free consultation.