Employee sexual harassment doesn’t always occur in the workplace
Too often, people think that if they get together with co-workers for drinks after work, play softball on the weekends or run into one another at a colleague’s wedding, the rules that apply to them in the workplace don’t exist. That’s not entirely true. Take sexual harassment, for example.
Sexual harassment of a co-worker is prohibited regardless of where or when it occurs, and employers have the same obligation to act on reports of harassment if it occurs off-site. According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), “Employees are prohibited from harassing others both on and off the employer premises and during or outside of work hours.” This includes online harassment – for example, via social media.
Hostile work environment
The reason that harassment in prohibited outside the workplace is that it can create feelings of anxiety, anger, discomfort and even fear that can easily follow the victim back into their workplace – creating what’s known as a “hostile work environment.” That can be particularly true if the harasser warns their victim that if they say anything, there will be consequences or otherwise treats them poorly.
Even if the harasser apologizes for their behavior, blames it on being drunk or – worse – on the victim’s behavior, it may not be so easy to forget. That can be true even if the harasser behaves appropriately in the workplace.
Sexual harassment outside the workplace can have real consequences for a person’s job and even their career. They may do everything possible to avoid their harasser – even if it means turning down high-profile projects. Their harasser may take steps to avoid interacting with the person they victimized – which can have a negative impact on the victim’s prospects within the company.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination
Florida law states that “sexual harassment is a form of discrimination.” When someone reports sexual harassment (whether they were the victim or a witness) to a manager or someone in Human Resources, they have an obligation to investigate and deal with the harasser as warranted.
If you’ve been harassed, it’s crucial to understand and assert your rights. This may involve educating your employer on their obligations under the law. If you’ve suffered or continue to suffer sexual harassment and your employer hasn’t taken the matter seriously or has engaged in retaliation, it’s wise to learn more about your legal options.