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Sexual harassment in a hostile work environment

Sometimes it can be challenging for people to determine which workplace behaviors are sexual harassment and which are merely distasteful actions or actions taken out of context. For example, politely asking a co-worker out to dinner or a date one time is typically not considered harassment. However, persistent requests for dates or intimate contact could definitely fall under the sexual harassment umbrella.

A hostile work environment includes many forms of harassment, including sexual harassment. In order for a work environment to be deemed hostile due to sexual harassment, the following must occur: "Severe and pervasive conduct that permeates the work environment." These unwanted behaviors must also interfere with the worker's ability to do his or her job. As such, sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment can result in unexpected collateral damage.

For example, if the pervasive conduct prevents a worker from performing to standards, he or she may be wrongfully terminated. Another example is if the employee decides to bring the behavior to a supervisor, he or she could suffer from retaliation. Fear over what might happen if a worker reports sexual harassment often keeps the employee from speaking out.

While such fear is understandable, it could worsen the situation if a manager or supervisor is not made aware of the problem. At the same time, there are some situations where reporting the harassment to the proper person does not yield satisfactory results.

You should know that Michigan employment and labor laws support victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. An employment attorney serving the state can discuss the legal options at your disposal and help you put an end to the hostile workplace for you and your co-workers.

Source: BLM.gov, "Hostile Work Environment," accessed Nov. 02, 2015

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