In recent weeks, the issue of sexual harassment has been in the forefront of local and national news. Many well-known individuals have lost their jobs. Others probably should have or likely will in the weeks and months to come. At Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima, we applaud the men and women who have come forward to help expose those who abuse their power and behave inappropriately in the workplace. Importantly, we also want those who may be fearful of coming forward to report similar misconduct to know that we are here to help you through the process and to protect your rights.
In Ohio, both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment. Such harassment can take two forms. The first is called Quid Pro Quo Harassment. This is harassment that is directly tied to the denial of an economic benefit. The classic (but all too common and unfortunate) example of this is a boss who says he will not promote (or even consider promoting) a young employee unless she sleeps with him. This type of conduct is not only morally reprehensible, but also illegal.
The second type of sexual harassment is called Hostile Environment Harassment. This type of harassment, while not affecting economic benefits, has the purpose or effect of creating a hostile or abusive working environment. In order to prove such a claim, an employee must show the following: 1) That the harassment was unwelcome; 2) That the harassment was based on gender; 3) That the harassing conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment, and 4) That the harassment was either: committed by a supervisor; or the employer, through its agents or supervisory personnel, knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action
For the harassment to be based on gender, it does not necessarily need to be motivated by sexual desire. Rather, the harassment or other unequal treatment needs to have occurred because of the gender of the employee or employees.
For the conduct to be severe or pervasive, Ohio courts will look at an employee’s entire work environment. Factors which will be considered include, but are not limited to: a) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, b) its severity, c) whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance, and d) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, for a company to be held responsible for the harassing conduct of its employees, it must know that it is occurring and fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. This is commonly referred to as the Notice Requirement. It is for these reasons, that employees are encouraged to report – in writing – any inappropriate or harassing conduct. While making such reports can understandably be scary, especially if the harasser is a well-liked or influential member of the company, victims should know that Ohio law protects them in the event the company or harasser retaliates against them.
Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free from harassment. Call the attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima today if you feel that you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment.