Readers of this blog know that we post often about wrongful termination and sexual harassment. Indeed, a recent post spoke specifically about wrongful termination in at-will states. In that post, we explained some of the reasons a termination can qualify as wrongful, which included illegal employment discrimination. One such wrongful act is sexual harassment, which this post will explore further.
Most workers in Portland are likely familiar with the term sexual harassment, but they may not be familiar with the legal definition or how to spot it. Essentially, employers cannot harass potential or actual employees based on that person’s sex. That harassment can take many forms, including requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical harassment and unwelcome sexual advances.
To be clear, sexual harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. What’s required is that the harassment is based on the victim’s sex. For example, disparaging women generally could qualify as harassment. And, the victim and harasser can be the same sex or the opposite sex.
It’s also important to note that the harassment doesn’t necessarily have to come from a manager at the employer’s company.
Two types of harassment
The first type of sexual harassment is quid pro quo, and it is the type that is most often seen in popular media. In this type, the harasser directly asks for sexual favors in exchange for some employment benefit, or with the threat that the worker will face a negative employment action if they refuse.
The other type of sexual harassment is known as hostile workplace harassment. This occurs when the harassment is so pervasive and severe in the workplace that the harassment creates a hostile or offensive environment. Alternatively, it could also occur if the harassment leads to a negative employment action, like being fired, a demotion, loss of responsibilities, etc.
What does not qualify?
Keep in mind that isolated incidents may not qualify, unless they are serious. In addition, the occasional offhand comment or simple teasing may not qualify. This is why many contact an attorney and the EEOC to understand whether illegal sexual harassment has occurred. If you are fired because of your sex after pervasive harassment, you likely experienced wrongful termination