What is sexual harassment in Wisconsin, and all other states? Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited. Victims of sexual harassment can recover damages including, but not limited to, loss of income, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional pain and mental anguish, inconvenience and other damages.
There are two types of sexual harassment. The first, “quid pro quo” is a situation in which a supervisor or person in authority demands sexual favors in exchange for getting or keeping a job or a benefit. You have heard it said, “you do something for me and I will do something for you.” This is not allowed in the workplace when it comes to sex. This is against the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law as well as Federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. A company is liable for damages caused as a result of a supervisor or person of authority’s actions under a theory of quid pro quo.
The second type of sexual harassment is a “hostile work environment”. A “hostile” work place is a work place in which conduct is unwelcome, based on sex and is severe or pervasive. Unfortunately, there is no exact definition for a hostile work environment, but it almost always involves sexual advances, touching, degrading or derogatory comments, pornography, vulgar language, dirty jokes of a sexual nature or questions of a sexual nature. Again, the old saying of “you will know it when you see or hear it,” applies to a hostile work environment. Leaving pornographic pictures at a photocopy machine for others to find or having pornography on computers and work stations that can be viewed or heard by others is an example of a hostile work environment.
In those situations, an employer can be responsible for damages when the behavior rises to a level that causes the workplace to be intimidating, hostile or offensive. Most jobs have their own types of pressure but an employee does not have to be stressed out about working in an environment that is filled with sexual innuendos, comments and behavior.
We have also been involved in cases in which an employer has been responsible for sexual harassment of its employees by third-parties. There could be situations in which a customer, not a co-worker or an employee, can sexually harass one of your employees. In those situations, if action is not taken to protect your employee, the employer can be responsible for damages just as though that third-party was an employee.
What should you do if you are subject to any of these types of sexual harassment? First, read your company handbook as most employers have a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. With these policies come instructions on what steps to be taken if you are sexually harassed in the workplace. Read and follow the steps. If you do not follow the steps you may be prohibited or your case may be substantially damaged if you do not follow the procedure put in place by your employer. If there is no policy, then talk to a supervisor.
Even in situations of which it is uncomfortable you must tell the person committing the sexually offensive conduct to stop. Tell them it is not welcome, appreciated, illegal and you will do what is necessary to get them to stop if they do not do it on their own.
Sometimes, part of the company policy is to submit a report. If it is not part of the policy you should report in writing all offensive conduct to your supervisors, employers, managers, etc. If you are not sure who is to get the written report then give it to everyone above you in the chain of command. If your supervisor or manager is the one sexually harassing you then go to the person above him or her and give them a written report outlining the conduct and requesting that your employer correct the problem. Remember, if your employer takes action against you it is illegal for that employer to retaliate against you for filing a sexual harassment report. In that case, you could be entitled to damages for both the sexual harassment as well as the retaliation.
If the harassment does not stop after reporting the conduct, the next step is to file a complaint with the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the Federal branch of the Department of Workforce Development where you would file your complaint for violation of Wisconsin Fair Employment Law. Many times in Wisconsin, by filing one complaint with the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law it may also automatically be filed with the EEOC. Most of these complaints can be filed in person, on line, by mail or telephone.
Contact Attorney Mark L. Krueger for a free, no cost, no obligation consultation with any questions you have about sexual harassment. Call us today at (866) 455-2993 to discuss your legal rights.