Missouri workers outside of the entertainment industry are not immune to the travesties of sexual harassment the employment setting. In recent weeks, the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace has come front and center in the national news due to the movie industry’s apparent allowances. However, much confusion may still exist with regard to what is and is not sexual harassment in the workplace.
As reported by ABC News, either gender can perpetuate illegal harassment. The harasser and the victim can have any kind of relationship within the work setting.
Sexual harassment, to be an issue that is legally actionable in court, must fit into at least one of two possible categories. It must be either the kind of behavior that creates a hostile environment, or it must be quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile environment sexual harassment
A claim of a hostile environment may ensue when certain factors can be shown, including the following:
- Behavior is not welcome
- Behavior is severe and would offend a reasonable person
- Behavior affects the terms of employment
It may take multiple episodes of the behavior to rise to the level of creating a hostile environment, unless the behavior is extreme.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment, on the other hand, may be more cut and dried. It exists when the harasser asks for a sexual interaction in return for something.
As noted by the American Bar Association, quid pro quo harassment would result if the employee’s submission to a sexual advance that was unwelcomed resulted in an employment benefit of some kind. It can be either the provision of a benefit by the harasser or the harasser refraining from penalizing an employee if that employee submits to the sexual advance.
Unlike the type of sexual harassment involved in a hostile environment claim, in a quid pro quo situation, there must be a disparity in levels of the parties within the workplace hierarchy or levels of authority. The harasser must have authority over the victim.
Importantly, the activity must be unwanted. However, interaction need not be involuntary on the part of the victim to allow for an actionable claim. A voluntary submission of the victim to the sexual invitation does not negate the illegal nature of the harassment if it is unwelcome.