When an Employer Can Be Held for an Employee’s Acts of Sexual Harassment
With the #MeToo movement that took off in 2017, women across the country have found the courage to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as sexual assault. Dozens of high profile movie producers, actors, politicians, CEOs, news anchors, and employers have been called out, sued, and terminated for their unlawful actions. As an employer, you may question the environment of your own workplace, which is a smart thing to do. If you suspect that supervisors or employees are engaging in sexual harassment, whether they are male or female, it is your responsiblity to take immediate action.
Can I be Sued?
Can an employee be sued even if they had nothing to do with the sexual harassment or did not know that it existed? The short answer is yes, an employee can file a lawsuit against an employer at any time if they so choose. The more important question is: does the employee stand a chance of winning? Sexual harassment is a major problem in the U.S. workplace and here in Florida, where recent efforts (SB 866) failed to create a law that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements from disclosing sexual harassment. However, there are certain criteria that must be met in order for an employer to be legally and financially responsible for the damages caused to the victimized employee. Below are a few examples that would make it difficult to hold an employer liable:
- Minor or Infrequent Sexual Harassment—Under the EEOC’s definition of a hostile work environment, the conduct must be “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” Minor or infrequent harassment does not warrant a lawsuit.
- Employee Never Spoke Up to Supervisors—If a coworker was the abuser, the employer needs to know about the harassment in order to take action.
- The Employer Held Regular Anti-Harassment Workshops and Counseling—This is further evidence that could be used to make the case that the employer took reasonable actions to prevent a hostile work environment.
If the harassment was caused directly by you, the employer, or from a supervisor or manager, the employee’s sexual harassment lawsuit stands a good chance at winning in court or through a settlement. And, when the harassment was caused by a supervisor, the employer will automatically be held liable unless:
- The employer took reasonable methods to prevent the harassing behavior (such as immediately terminating the abusive supervisor); AND
- The victimized employee failed to take advantage of preventable or corrective opportunities that were provided by the employer.
Call Our West Palm Beach Employment Attorneys At Once
By not responding to an employee’s complaints about sexual harassment or ignoring the obvious signs that your workplace has become or is on the way to become a hostile environment, you are setting your company up for a lawsuit. However, employers are not always held responsible for sexual harassment. For legal assistance, call the West Palm Beach labor & employment attorneys at Pincus & Currier, LLP today at 561-868-1340 to schedule a meeting.