Employees are entitled to a workplace free from sexual harassment. Unfortunately, this type of misconduct remains a serious problem in American workplaces. According to a study cited by National Public Radio (NPR), 38 percent of women and 10 percent of men report that they have personally endured or witnessed sexual harassment on the job.
Sexual harassment is not always easy to define. Employees and employers alike often have questions about the relevant legal standard. You may be wondering: What constitutes workplace sexual harassment under the law? Here, our Virginia sexual harassment attorneys answer the question by explaining how sexual harassment is defined.
Sexual Harassment: Severe or Pervasive
As explained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is unlawful to harass a person based on their sex. Sexual harassment can come in a wide range of different forms—from unwanted advances and inappropriate requests for sexual favors to disparaging comments and offensive jokes. Sexual harassment may come from a supervisor, coworker, or even a customer. To constitute sexual harassment, the conduct in question must fall into one of the following two categories:
- Severe: Sex-based harassment in the workplace is illegal if the offensive conduct is severe. In other words, one extreme offense of sexual harassment that makes the victim feel unwelcome or unsafe in the workplace to the point that it adversely affects their ability to perform their job and their overall well-being can serve as the basis for an employment lawsuit. As an example, a supervisor threatening an employee’s job and demanding sexual favors is a textbook case of severe sexual harassment.
- Pervasive: Even if no specific act is deemed “severe” under the law, conduct may still constitute sexual harassment if it is pervasive. In essence, pervasive sexual harassment is a series of relatively minor incidents that take place over a long period of time. When taken together, these repeated incidents make an employee feel unsafe and unwelcome in the workplace. For instance, an employee may be forced to endure unwanted sexual “jokes” day after day. Although each individual joke might not be a big deal, the pervasive nature of them adversely affects the employee’s ability to do their job.
The bottom line: Sexual harassment must be severe or pervasive under state and federal law. A single offensive act could constitute sexual harassment. Alternatively, many small but consistent events could collectively constitute sexual harassment. Ultimately, all sexual harassment claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. These are fact-intensive legal matters and the specific circumstances always matter. If you have specific questions about your case, a Virginia sexual harassment attorney can help.
Call Our Virginia Sexual Harassment Lawyers for Legal Guidance
If you have any questions regarding sexual harassment law, we are ready to help. Contact us today to schedule a strictly confidential review of your case. With office locations in Norfolk and Richmond, we handle sexual harassment cases throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.