Sexual harassment is a major issue in the workplace that can impact you emotionally, physically, and financially. It is illegal under both Ohio state law and federal law — and it’s important for a victim to take legal action to hold the harasser accountable. While you may be eligible to recover the damages you incurred in connection with the harassment, there are a number of things you should know about filing a sexual harassment claim.
While the law doesn’t necessarily prohibit isolated incidents of teasing or an offhand comment, it does protect those in the workplace from conduct that is frequent or severe. Notably, sexual harassment isn’t limited to just one type of behavior. There are a wide range of unwanted behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment, including the following:
It’s vital to document any instances of sexual harassment. Notes, letters, emails, texts, and other evidence can be essential evidence when filing a sexual harassment claim. In some cases, there may also be video footage from security cameras in the workplace, or an employer may have a record of documentation of previously filed complaints — these can be helpful to demonstrate that there is a pattern of harassment.
It’s critical not to ignore any instances of sexual harassment. In order to bring a successful claim, an employee must have clearly and unequivocally informed the harasser that their conduct is unwelcome. This can be done through either words or actions. For example, an employee may verbally tell the harasser to stop the unwelcome conduct or physically distance themselves.
An employer must have known — or should have known — that sexual harassment was occurring in the workplace in order for an employee to have a viable claim. In addition, they must have failed to take action to prevent or correct the conduct. This is why it is crucial for an employee to report the unwanted behavior to a supervisor or Human Resources as soon as possible. However, in certain cases, an employee may be able to show that an employer had constructive notice of the harassment if it was so pervasive that everyone in the workplace knew about it.
Most people think of sexual harassment as being specific behaviors. However, it’s important to understand there are two types of sexual harassment claims — quid pro quo and hostile work environment claims. A victim may pursue a legal claim for both types of sexual harassment under the law.
Quid pro quo translates from the Latin as “something for something.” This type of sexual harassment involves a person in a position of power, such as a supervisor or manager, making demands for sexual favors in exchange for a job benefit like a promotion or pay raise. Or the authority figure may threaten the employee with a negative job consequence if they do not submit to the demand. Importantly, an employee does not need to submit to the request in order for it to bring a legal claim. Generally, the demand itself would be sufficient to constitute sexual harassment.
In contrast, a victim can make a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment. To establish the work environment was a hostile one, an employee must show that the harassment was severe and pervasive. A judge would consider a variety of factors, including how often the harassment occurs, the severity of the harassment, and whether it interfered with the employee’s ability to carry out their work. Typically, a victim must also demonstrate that an objectively reasonable person would find that the environment was hostile.
Before an employee can consider filing a sexual harassment claim in court, they must first file a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Typically, both parties will have the option to participate in mediation. If the mediation process is unsuccessful, the case will be referred to an investigator who will look into the matter and determine whether harassment occurred. Only once a “Right to Sue” letter is issued can a lawsuit be brought.
If you’ve been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side. Located in Westlake and providing representation to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak is committed to upholding the rights of employees who have suffered workplace sexual harassment and works to secure the best possible outcome in every case. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.