Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious crimes that can devastate victims, causing emotional and social damage. While sexual harassment is a common cause of workplace lawsuits, sexual harassment and assault can happen anywhere. While the two terms may be used interchangeably, they are different.
Harassment vs. Assault
Sexual harassment includes any unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, suggestive remarks, crude or sexually charged jokes, or any other nonphysical contact of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment also includes workplace discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. In the United States, it is against the law to hire or fire employees on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. Employers who discriminate are legally liable for the resulting damages inflicted on the victims.
Sexual assault is a more serious offense and includes any forced sexual contact. Some states, including Florida, define rape as a sexual assault (or sexual battery), while others define sexual assault as any unwelcome sexual contact up to, but not including, rape. Other examples of sexual assault include unwanted physical advances, such as touching or groping, and instances of sexual contact in which one or both parties were legally unable to provide consent (e.g., under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
Sexual Harassment and Assault in the Workplace
An employer has a legal responsibility to ensure employees have a safe and hazard-free workplace and workplace environment. In addition to taking care of the property, maintaining a safe workplace includes encouraging respectful relationships between employees and between employers and employees. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you must take several steps before filing a lawsuit:
- Ask the harasser to stop. Make it clear that the behavior is unwelcome. Sometimes, this is all it takes—the harasser recognizes the mistreatment and stops the offensive behavior immediately. However, if your request is ignored or if you are concerned for your personal safety, take the next step.
- Notify your supervisors and company leadership about the harassment. Determine if your workplace has a sexual harassment policy, and escalate the situation. If your harasser continues the unwelcome behavior, escalating the complaint to company leadership shows you are serious and have no intention of continuing to endure the offensive treatment.
- If the harassment continues despite your request for it to stop and your subsequent appeal to company leadership, file a complaint with your state fair employment office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There may be an investigation into your case, and if no satisfactory result or settlement arises, you can pursue a civil lawsuit for damages or file a federal lawsuit after listing your complaint with the EEOC.
Handling Sexual Assault
Sexual assault can leave a victim feeling damaged and unwilling or hesitant to report the incident to authorities out of fear or humiliation. Some victims even feel responsible for the attack, needlessly taking on much of the blame. However, if you were the victim of a sexual assault, report the incident as soon as possible and provide an accurate description of the event to authorities. You can then consult with an attorney regarding your legal options. Your immediate action not only improves your chance of securing compensation for your damages, but it also holds the attacker accountable, preventing others from being victimized.
Sexual harassment and assault lawsuits can be sensitive, complex cases, and victims need legal representation that they can trust. The legal professionals at SteinLaw prioritize our clients’ recoveries above all else. Let us know how we can help. Reach out to SteinLaw in Florida for a free consultation and to discuss your options.