All employees have a right to a safe, comfortable, and harassment-free workplace. Acts of discrimination, objectification, or persecution based on a protected class are intolerable. Yet thousands of people deal with sexual harassment at work every day. If you’re one of these victims, now is the time to fight back. You have rights under federal and Florida laws. Hire a Tampa employment lawyer to help you stand up for these rights in a court of law.
Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC, has years of experience helping workplace sexual harassment victims in Tampa Bay. We know how to build strong cases, navigate the legal process efficiently, and secure the results our clients desire. If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, contact us and ask for a free legal consultation. You’ll meet with a Tampa sexual harassment lawyer during a confidential case evaluation, learn your rights, and discuss legal possibilities.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
The first step toward defending your rights as a Florida employee is knowing what these rights are. Defining sexual harassment according to federal and state laws can help you recognize a violation of the law and a breach of duty toward employees. According to Chapter 60L-36.004 (1) of the Florida Administrative Code, the definition of sexual harassment in the workplace is: “verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward or in front of an employee or job applicant” when any of the following are true:
- The harasser has explicitly or implicitly made submission to sexual conduct a term or condition of the victim’s employment.
- The harasser is using the employee/applicant’s submission to or rejection of sexual conduct as the basis for employment decisions.
- The sexual conduct unreasonably interferes (either as the purpose of the conduct or as a byproduct) with an individual’s ability to work; or it creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment.
These are the three main situations that constitute sexual harassment in the workforce. Within these three categories are numerous ways in which an employer, supervisor, coworker, or other individual in the workplace could be guilty of sexual harassment. The code gives two main examples: “unwelcome sexual advances” and “requests for sexual favors.” However, many different behaviors can constitute sexual harassment by law.
What Types of Behavior Constitute Sexual Harassment?
The specific types of sexual harassment the Florida Administrative Code references are two common situations. The first is unwelcome sexual advances. This can refer to a range of actions one person takes against another without the latter’s permission or consent, and in a way that breaches an employer’s duties to employees. The second is requests for sexual favors, usually in exchange for employment opportunities such as raises or promotions. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of behaviors that could qualify as workplace sexual harassment:
- Propositioning someone else for sexual favors
- Threatening adverse employment options if an employee doesn’t agree to sexual favors
- Unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature (e.g., kisses, hugs, butt or genital touching, rape)
- Unsolicited discussions or questions about sex
- Sexual jokes, innuendos, or explicit comments
- Sexually suggestive hand gestures or facial expressions
- Verbal conduct of a sexual nature at work
- Nude or otherwise sexually inappropriate images in the workplace
- Surprise dates under the pretense of a “work meeting”
- Suggestive text messages or emails
- Inappropriate communications after work hours
- Cornering someone in a tight space or not letting him/her leave
- Repeated compliments on the employee’s physical looks
- Unwanted or inappropriate gifts of a romantic/sexual nature
One of the reasons employees fail to report workplace sexual harassment is fear – fear of retaliation or of not being believed. Another reason, however, is that the employee doesn’t realize the action qualifies as harassment. If something a boss or coworker does gives you an uneasy or violated feeling, ask yourself whether it constitutes sexual harassment. Discuss what happened with a human resources representative or with an attorney. Then, research sexual harassment laws for your next step.
Sexual Harassment Laws
Sexual harassment isn’t always blatant or overt. Something seemingly as harmless as a supervisor constantly placing a hand on your back while you work could constitute sexual harassment if it makes you uncomfortable, offends you, or interferes with your work performance. By law, a behavior will qualify as sexual harassment only if it would have offended a reasonable employee in similar circumstances – even if the individual employee in question feels harassed. Here are three laws that pertain to sexual harassment at work:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, to terminate the employment of, or to otherwise discriminate against an individual based on a protected class. “Protected classes” include sex, religion, color, race, sexual orientation, age, disability, and national origin. This is a federal law that bans discrimination in the workplace. It applies to most employers with 15 or more employees. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII.
- Florida Statutes Section 110.1221. This statute classifies sexual harassment as a form of discrimination in Florida. It holds that the executive agency overseeing these cases shall adhere to uniform sexual harassment rules that define sexual harassment in a way that matches the federal definition. In other words, the Florida courts will treat workplace sexual harassment cases the same as discrimination cases.
- Statutes of limitations. You have a narrow window of opportunity to act against sexual harassment in the workplace. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) places a 180-day time limit from the date the harassment occurred to file a complaint. State laws, however, can override the EEOC’s timeline. In Florida, you have 365 days from the date of harassment to file a claim with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
Many different state and federal laws can apply to sexual harassment cases. It’s important to talk to our Tampa employment lawyers for information regarding your specific situation. Don’t assume the statute of limitations has passed or that you don’t have a case. Find out for sure during a free legal consultation with our attorneys.
Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment
It is your employer’s legal responsibility to provide a safe and productive work environment for employees. This includes a space that’s free from sexual harassment and discrimination. Failure to provide a safe workplace when a reasonable and prudent employer could have done so is negligence and could result in liability for violations such as sexual harassment.
The rule of vicarious liability could give you grounds to file a lawsuit against both the person who harassed you and your employer. An employer could be vicariously liable for your sexual harassment case even if it wasn’t the employer doing the harassing, because employers are legally responsible for the actions of its supervisors and employees.
An employer might also be legally responsible in quid pro quo harassment cases, in which supervisors use their authority to commit sexual harassment. An employer may also be liable for a hostile work environment. Our lawyers can investigate your case and help you determine fault and liability for a sexual harassment incident. A supervisor, employer, coworker, customer, and/or other parties could share fault for sexual harassment at work. Having multiple defendants gives you a higher chance of obtaining compensation for your damages.
Filing an EEOC Complaint or Charge
If you believe you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment in Florida, your first step should be to talk to your human resources (HR) department about the issue. HR should have reporting systems in place to document your complaint and notify supervisors and higher-ups. In many cases, discussing what’s bothering you with HR can resolve the problem. If the problem doesn’t resolve, your next step will be to file a complaint or charge with the EEOC.
A charge of discrimination is a statement (signed by you) that asserts that your employer engaged in discrimination, and that you wish the EEOC to remedy the situation. The EEOC will review your complaint and investigate the alleged sexual harassment. Your employer will receive a notice that you’ve filed a charge against it. The EEOC will then determine how to best address the issue. You, your employer, and the EEOC may enter mediation to negotiate a way to resolve the issue. If your employer refuses to remedy the problem, you will then have the power to take your case to court.
You have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer and/or another party alleging sexual harassment and discrimination in Florida. You may only do so after filing a complaint with the EEOC, after which you’ll receive a Notice of Right to Sue. You have 90 days after receiving this notice to file your lawsuit with the Tampa civil courts. Your lawsuit will likely take the form of a Title VII case. The EEOC may also file its own lawsuit against an employer if conciliation with the employer fails.
Contact Our Law Firm to Discuss Your Sexual Harassment Claim
It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a charge with the EEOC or bringing a sexual harassment lawsuit. Retaliation refers to punishing you for reporting your experience or complaining about legal violations. Retaliation can take the form of terminating your employment contract or demoting you. Our law firm can help you with all types of employment cases in the Tampa Bay area, from sexual harassment and rape to retaliation.
No employee should have to experience or put up with sexual harassment in the workplace. If a supervisor, employer, or another party harassed you at work, you deserve legal counsel. Don’t wait to come forward with your complaint and fight for justice. You could be eligible for restitution. Contact the lawyers at Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC, and request a free consultation as soon as possible. We’re here to help you through the legal process. Initial consultations are always free and confidential.