With the recent increase of sexual and workplace harassment claims that have been prevalent in the news, we have decided to focus on sexual harassment compliance in the workplace for this month’s Compliance Corner Topic. New discrimination, harassment and hostile work environment claims are receiving public attention on a daily basis.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) plans to issue new guidelines regarding sexual harassment for the first time in over 20 years.
Sexual harassment is defined per the EEOC guidelines as: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an
individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
Unwelcome is the critical word. Unwelcome does not mean “involuntary.” A victim may consent or agree to certain conduct and actively participate in it even though it is offensive and objectionable. Therefore, sexual conduct is unwelcome whenever the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome. Whether the person in fact welcomed a request for a date, sex-oriented comment, or joke depends on all the circumstances.
Sexual harassment encompasses many forms, some examples are:
- Unwanted pressure for sexual favors.
- Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.
- Unwanted sexual looks or gestures.
- Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature.
- Unwanted pressure for dates.
- Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.
- Sexual comments and suggestive gestures.
- Turning work discussions to sexual topics.
- Sexual innuendos or stories.
- Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
- Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history.
- Personal questions about social or sexual life.
- Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks.
- Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s personal sex life.
- Touching an employee’s clothing, hair, or body.
- Hugging, kissing, patting, or stroking.
- Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
- Standing close or brushing up against a person.
- Facial expressions, winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips.
- Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements.
For more information regarding EEOC and Sexual Harassment please visit the EEOC website.