The law on sexual harassment in the workplace is strictly prohibited by both state and federal civil rights laws. Knowing what the law has to say about sexual harassment will help you understand what is and what is not acceptable behavior in the workplace. This knowledge will, in turn, help you address incidents of sexual harassment immediately and protect your rights as an employee.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) generally prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The courts have interpreted sexual harassment as a form of sexual discrimination that is prohibited under Title VII.
Title VII recognizes two types of harassment:
Quid pro quo involves a superior who demands sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for preferential employment treatment. Hostile work environment involves unwelcome sexual conduct so pervasive and severe that it creates an intolerable work environment.
Both quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment can be grounds for legal action against your employer to hold them liable for both compensatory and punitive damages whenever:
- The harassment results in you being fired, demoted, or being denied any employment benefits or opportunity; or
- The harassment creates a hostile work environment that interferes with your ability to do your job; or
- Your employer knew or should have known about the harassment, and did not take immediate or sufficient action to correct it.
State Laws and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
State laws that address civil rights and employment practices also prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Similar to Title VII, the Tennessee Human Rights Act also prohibits sexual discrimination in workplaces throughout the state.
In addition, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides the nation with a comprehensive definition of sexual harassment. Under the EEOC’s definition, sexual harassment is sexual conduct that is:
- Harmful; and
Unwelcome conduct can include sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or displays of sexually explicit or suggestive material in the workplace.
This conduct may be either physically or emotionally harmful to the victim or to those who witness the conduct. This can also negatively affect the atmosphere of the workplace in general.
Finally, the EEOC makes all forms of sexual harassment illegal and establishes a procedure to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC to address the sexually harassment you have suffered.
For more information regarding the laws on harassment, contact a knowledgeable employment law attorney who can answer your questions in much greater depth.