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Webucator's Free Sexual Harassment Awareness Tutorial

Lesson: Harassment Laws

Welcome to our free Sexual Harassment Awareness tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Sexual Harassment Awareness for Employees and Managers course.

Federal and State laws exist to protect employees against sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in the workplace. This lesson provides the legal definitions and explanation of harassment. Sexual harassment can include a variety of circumstances, and this lesson covers many of these unwelcome behaviors.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn the definition of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment.
  • Learn who is protected by harassment laws.
  • Learn the purpose of harassment laws.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm states the following:

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."

Sexual Harassment Guidelines

Many different people can be affected by sexual harassment. Note the following groups that can be affected by sexual harassment:

  1. The victim or harasser can be male or female.
  2. The victim can be the same sex as or opposite sex from the harasser.
  3. The victim can be anyone affected by sexual harassment, not only the person being targeted by the harasser.

The common scenario is that the harasser is the victim's supervisor, but that is not the only possible scenario. The harasser can also be:

  1. A co-worker.
  2. A company contractor.
  3. A non-employee. This can be someone who is working on company property as a contractor, vendor, or other non-employee capacity.

The most important deciding factor of harassment is that the behavior must be unwelcome.

Main Categories of Sexual Harassment

There are two main categories of sexual harassment:

  1. Quid pro quo
  2. Hostile work environment

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo translates to "this for that." The harasser wants sexual favors in return for the victim keeping a job, or other career related benefit.

In this category, typically the harasser is the victim's supervisor or someone in a position of power. The victim is forced to tolerate sexual harassment for fear of losing a job, or in order to obtain a raise or promotion. This can be a single occurrence if it is severe or a repeated behavior, no matter how minor.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment can be defined by many possible scenarios. Generally, a hostile work environment is when harassment behavior interferes with employee work performance or creates an abusive or offensive atmosphere.

In this category, there is typically a repeated behavior that may start off small and harmless but builds to an intolerable situation. A behavior can be severe enough to create a hostile work environment after only a single occurrence.

The harasser can be:

  1. A co-worker
  2. A supervisor
  3. A group.

The harassment can be:

  1. Verbal
  2. Physical
  3. Both verbal and physical.

Understanding Sexual Harassment Law

Duration: 15 to 20 minutes.

In this exercise, you will demonstrate your understanding of harassment laws.

Answer the following questions.

  1. Which phrase completes the EEOC definition of sexual harassment? Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, ____________________________ or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
    1. unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance
    2. unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex
    3. forces an individual to tolerate sexual harassment for fear of losing a job, or in order to obtain a raise or promotion
    4. creates a discriminatory situation

  2. Who can be a victim of sexual harassment?
    1. Targeted male
    2. Targeted female
    3. Male bystander
    4. Female bystander
    5. All of the above

  3. Who can be a harasser?
    1. Victim's supervisor
    2. Other supervisor
    3. Co-worker
    4. Company contractor
    5. Non-employee
    6. All of the above
    7. All except E.

  4. What are the two main categories of harassment?

Protecting Against False Accusations

Falsely accusing someone of sexual harassment or creating a hostile workplace can have serious negative consequences on the following:

  • Employee morale:
    1. Loss of productivity
  • Emotional stress:
    1. Increase in health-related absenteeism
  • Future employment:
    1. Lack of trust by future employers

The increased ease of use of technology such as instant messaging, email, and social networking sites has had an impact on the spread of false accusations and information in the workplace. When the false information results in injuring the reputation of someone's character or a company's reputation, it is considered to be a form of defamation, which is regulated by law.

Defamation Laws

Everyone has the right to the protection of his or her good name. When someone attacks the reputation of another person by falsely accusing that person, causing injury, the accused person has the right to file a lawsuit against the person who attacked him or her.

There are several criteria that must be met in order for the lawsuit to stand in court. These criteria may vary by state, but in general, the accused must prove:

  1. The accusations were stated to a third party or published where others can read them.
  2. The accusations must be false and cause injury of some kind. For example, loss of a job.
  3. The accusations made during a lawsuit or other setting where privilege is applied are protected from defamation lawsuits.

Privileged Statements

In certain circumstances, privilege applies, protecting the person making certain defamatory statements from any liability. Some examples of circumstances where privilege applies are:

  1. Legal proceedings where the statements may be false but are made as part of the defense or prosecution of the victim.
  2. Performance appraisals where the employer may make negative comments, without malice, about the employer's performance, even though the employee does not like the comments.

Workplace Discrimination Laws

If an employee is treated unfairly by other employees based on color, gender, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, or sexual orientation, the victim may file a workplace discrimination lawsuit if that treatment causes the victim to be discriminated against by other employees.

Background Check Laws

Former employers are protected from defamation lawsuits as long as the information provided to prospective employers is accurate. The prospective employee cannot sue the former employer if he or she does not get the job based on truthful statements made by the former employer, but if the former employer makes statements during the background check that are false and the employee is not hired or is terminated from current employment, a lawsuit can be filed.

Protecting Against False Accusations

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will demonstrate your understanding of laws protecting victims from false accusations. Answer the following questions.

  1. When responding to background checks, former employers can say anything they want because they are protected by privilege.
    1. True.
    2. False.
  2. In order to be considered defamation, a statement must be:
    1. Published.
    2. Stated to a third party and cause injury.
    3. False.
    4. All of the above.
  3. False accusations in the workplace:
    1. Contribute to health-related absenteeism.
    2. Are easily dismissed, causing no harm.
    3. Could result in lost future employment opportunities.
    4. Create an atmosphere of intimidation and/or fear.
  4. Consider the following scenario:
    1. An employee is reprimanded and not considered for a promotion because of a false accusation of sexual harassment by a co-worker. The employee files a defamation lawsuit and is subsequently fired. The person who made the false accusation is given the promotion originally due the victim.
    2. Does the employee have any recourse? Discuss possible actions the employee can take.

Solution:

  1. False, privilege applies only in certain circumstance; background checks are covered by privilege.
  2. D. All of the above.
  3. A, C, and D.
  4. The discussion should include the following possible actions the employee can take: The employee can sue the company for wrongful termination as well as continue with the defamation lawsuit against the person making the false statements.

Other Forms of Harassment

Other forms of harassment are defined as employment discrimination that violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices/harassment.cfm states: "Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information."

Quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment exist in these forms as well, and just like sexual harassment, both are unlawful.

Offensive Actions

Offensive actions can include:

  1. Jokes.
  2. Pictures.
  3. Emails.
  4. Posters.

These types of items are indirect harassment and typically offenders will quickly remove the item or stop the behavior if told that it is offending others. Most people who are guilty of this type of harassment do not want to intentionally offend anyone.

Other offensive actions include:

  1. Name calling.
  2. Insults.
  3. Mockery.

These behavior are intentional and target an individual or group. Again, the targeted victim or victims are not the only ones affected in this situation. Individuals in the work area who are offended by the behavior can be just as affected as the direct victim.

Threats and physical assault are the most obvious harassment behavior. These actions are definitely intentional with a direct targeted victim or victims. This behavior is severe and needs to be reported immediately, even if there is only one occurrence.

Harassment Guidelines

Many different people can be affected by other forms of harassment, just as with sexual harassment. The victim can be anyone affected by harassment, not only the person being targeted by the harasser.

The harasser can be:

  1. The victim's supervisor.
  2. A supervisor from another department.
  3. A supervisor conducting an interview.
  4. A co-worker.
  5. A company contractor.
  6. Another type of nonemployee.

Not all offensive conduct is necessarily illegal. Minor or isolated incidents may not require legal action. A conversation telling the person to stop their behavior may be all that is needed.

As you can see, other forms of harassment are very similar to sexual harassment. Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a harasser. The rule is any unwanted behavior, whether received by a targeted individual or bystander, can be harassment.

Understanding Other Forms of Harassment

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

In this exercise, you will demonstrate your understanding of other forms of harassment.

  1. Which of the following is NOT one of the protected classes protected by harassment laws?
    1. Race
    2. Marital status
    3. Religion
    4. Age
    5. Disability
    6. National origin
    7. Genetic information
    8. Sex

  2. True or False: Quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment are categories only for sexual harassment, not other forms of harassment.

  3. Which of the following is an offensive action?
    1. A joke is sent through personal email that makes fun of certain races. An employee shares the joke with a few of his co-workers.
    2. A woman has a calendar hung up in her cubicle with pictures of firemen with limited clothing.
    3. A supervisor gives all of his hardest calculation jobs to his employee who is Asian.
    4. A hiring manager chooses not to hire a potential candidate because she is a blonde woman.
    5. All of the above.

What the Law States

Federal Laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on:

  1. Race.
  2. Color.
  3. Age.
  4. Religion.
  5. Sex.
  6. National origin.

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, although employees working for smaller companies are usually protected by state antidiscrimination laws similar to Title VII.

State Laws

Most states have harassment laws in addition to the federal laws. Federal law takes precedence unless the state's law offers more protection to the employees.

Federal law keeps employees safe, but some states wanted to enforce stronger laws and put stronger harassment laws in place. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Understanding Federal and State Laws

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, you will demonstrate your knowledge of federal and state harassment laws.

Answer the following questions:

  1. Which law takes precedence: federal or state?
    1. Federal
    2. State
    3. Whichever law provides more protection for the employee

  2. Federal law protects employees working for companies with a minimum of how many employees?
    1. 50
    2. 5
    3. 25
    4. 15

Why Harassment Laws Were Created and Upheld

Harassment laws were created for the protection of the employee. Sexual harassment, including physical and psychological abuse, and other forms of harassment can have devastating effects on individuals as well as on companies with the following as possible outcomes:

  1. Negative effects on work performance.
  2. Resignation.
  3. Suicide.