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When refusing a boss's sexual requests results in unemployment

When you first started working with your new boss, it seemed like everything was going just fine. You'd been in the same Michigan office position for nearly 10 years, and although you and several colleagues were sad to see your former boss resign, you held high hopes for a successful new alliance. At first, it appeared your hopes were realized; that is, until your boss called you into the head office during a lunch break one day.

You weren't sure how to react when the boss told a dirty joke during the impromptu meeting. What followed next caused even more shock and dismay on your part. The boss requested that you engage in a sexual encounter. Thankfully, the situation came to an abrupt halt when a co-worker knocked on the door. You were very worried, but hoped such a thing would never happen again.

What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?

The law protects those who suffer sexual harassment at work. While an off-the-cuff comment may not be considered grounds for harassment charges, the following facts are relevant to many sexual harassment situations:

  • Gender is a non-issue: It doesn't matter whether a person is male or female, or whether a particular person shares your gender when you're concerned about possible sexual harassment in the workplace. It is a person-to-person issue and is not gender-restrictive in any way.
  • Established severity is a must: If a boss or co-worker makes a single comment or an isolated incident occurs, it may not meet requirements to report as sexual harassment.
  • Hostile working environment: If your boss's speech or behavior repeatedly makes you uncomfortable, and you feel unable to function in the normal course of your workplace duties, you may be suffering a hostile working environment.
  • Termination threats: Whether your boss threatens to fire you for refusing direct requests for sexual favors or does so in connection with requests from a business client, you may have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit if you wind up losing your job after reporting sexual harassment.

Such situations can be extremely frightening, as well as highly emotionally damaging. It takes a lot of courage to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace. Michigan is one of many at-will employment states. This means an employer need not have specific cause for terminating an employee's position. However, the law protects you and your fellow workers against unjust termination and retaliatory actions in the workplace.

If you acted within your rights to report sexual harassment in the workplace and were fired soon after, you may want to discuss the situation with an employment law attorney experienced in sexual harassment litigation to explore what options are available to seek justice in court.

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