Employees are legally entitled to freedom from a hostile work environment. The phrase hostile work environment is a wide-ranging term, describing situations whereby an employee is harassed and/or intimidated based on factors such as sex, race, or any other protected class of people. Sexual harassment is an area of hostile work environment law designed specifically to address intimidation and harassment of a sexual nature.
What Is Considered Sexual Harassment Under Federal and Arizona Law?
In the 2015 fiscal year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that 29.1% of Arizona state charges in the workplace involved sexual harassment. Data of this scale reveals the serious and pervasive threat of sexual harassment, underscoring the need for more Americans to understand precisely what constitutes sexual harassment.
First, sexual harassment is governed by federal law, not just Arizona laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that sexual harassment is a sex discrimination claim, and any claims that fall within the federal scope of sexual harassment are enforceable by the EEOC.
The EEOC makes it quite clear that, as a general rule, behaviors that constitute sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors
- Other verbal and/or physical conduct that is sexual in nature
To constitute sexual harassment, however, these unwanted sexual behaviors must explicitly or implicitly:
- Affect an individual’s employment
- Interfere with the individuals’ work performance in an unreasonable manner
- Create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment
If such behavior occurs, the EEOC provides a helpful fact sheet providing the steps that all employees, harassed individuals and employers should take to combat sexual harassment.
Examples of conduct that is considered sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Inappropriate touching
- Confiding sexual information verbally
- Sexual bullying or making coercive sexual threats or demands
- Sexual advances
If your sexual harassment lawyer determines you have a strong case based on these criteria, a lawsuit will be filed against the parties responsible. Title VII lawsuits and legal claims require plaintiffs to offer evidence in support of the sexual harassment claim. If enough facts are presented, the burden of proof will then shift to the defendant, who must then show that the facts and evidence presented do not justify a finding of sexual harassment. Additionally, a reasonable conduct standard applies in sexual harassment cases. In other words, sexual harassment by an employer or coworker must be behavior that a reasonable person would find to be sexual harassment. These procedural elements and legal requirements demand that plaintiffs speak candidly and honestly with the attorney from the outset. Only when an attorney has the full set of facts can they do their job and pursue justice in the most direct way for their clients.
In addition to the protections afforded by federal law, the Arizona Civil Rights Act also protects Arizona employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the protections outlined in the Arizona Civil Rights Act largely echo the language of Title VII. For this reason, the same actions are prohibited by both federal and state law. Given the similarities, most attorneys advise clients to file a Title VII claim since sexual harassment violates federal law whenever Arizona sexual harassment laws are violated.
If you are unsure whether employer or coworker behavior rose to the standards outlined in Title VII, talk to an Arizona employment law and sexual harassment lawyer. Your attorney will assess the facts and let you know whether you have a strong case that entitles you to legal protection from sexual harassment.
The team at Tyler Allen Law Firm is here to help. We will offer you a reliable defense on a personal level. Contact us today!