Many Arizona employees, and employers, aren't sure what constitutes sexual harassment or what they should do if they suspect sexual harassment has occurred or have been accused of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment occurs when an employer or the employer's agent, such as a boss or co-worker, makes unwelcome sexual conduct a condition of employment or a condition of the receipt of employment benefits, or both. This type of harassment is referred to as quid pro quo sexual harassment.
A hostile work environment may also constitute sexual harassment. This occurs when a supervisor, co-worker, or other person connected with the employment makes sexual advances, comments, requests for sexual conduct, or engages in other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that a reasonable person in the same situation would find offensive. To constitute sexual harassment, the behavior must be unwelcome and sufficiently severe or widespread so as to alter the conditions of employment and create a generally abusive work environment. If the employee can show that the employer knew or should have known of the sexual harassment or hostile work environment and failed to take appropriate action to remedy the situation, then the employer may be liable for sexual harassment.
Proving the existence of sexual harassment is only half the battle. If an employer is found guilty of sexual harassment the harassed employee will be entitled to recover damages in the form of money to compensate for lost earnings, mental anguish or emotional distress, physical injuries, harm to reputation, and lost insurance coverage for medical bills. The harassed employee will have to produce evidence for each of these alleged damages in order to obtain any recovery.
An employee who has been the victim of sexual harassment in Arizona must first file a charge against the employer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Arizona Civil Rights Division. If the matter remains unresolved, the employee may then sue the employer for sexual harassment. Before filing any such action, individuals should consult with an Arizona sexual harassment attorney to discuss the details of the claim.
In most cases a sexually harassed employee has just 300 days from the date of the harassment to file a charge with the EEOC against an employer with 15 or more employees. Smaller companies are not covered by the applicable federal laws so charges against employers of less than 15 employees for discrimination based on sex should be filed with the Arizona Civil Rights Division within 180 days.
After the charge of discrimination is filed it will be investigated by the EEOC or the Arizona Civil Rights Division. If the charge is not resolved by the investigating agency, the agency may undertake representation on the employee's behalf or, in most cases, will issue a Right to Sue letter allowing the employee to file a lawsuit against the employer for sexual harassment.
In order to protect valuable legal rights, employees should contact the EEOC or Arizona Civil Rights Division as soon as possible whenever discrimination is suspected. Similarly, an action should be pursued immediately after receiving a Right to Sue letter, due to the 90 day limit for filing such claims stated in the Right to Sue letter. The time limits for filing a charge for discrimination or sexual harassment are strictly enforced and claims will be abandoned if not pursued in a timely manner.