Under Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act and its construing case law, sexual harassment occurs when a work-related benefit is conditioned on the granting of a sexual favor, when an employee or co-worker is subjected to unwanted sexual advances, where hostile conduct is based on the victim’s gender, or when there is offensive, sexually charged workplace behavior. Generally, one offensive comment alone will not support a claim of sexual harassment; however, sexual banter and “ribbing” of co-workers can be a basis for a harassment claim if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment. Regardless, one comment can lead to a claim being made against the employer and result in demoralized employees and possibly litigation. Should an employer not follow through with an investigation after a complaint (which may uncover a pattern of such comments) the employer may be regarded as not sufficiently concerned about or endorsing of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
Best practice and as required by U.S. law is for employers to create a work environment that prohibits harassing or discriminatory conduct – the kind that may one day be used as evidence of harassment. To maintain a respectful workplace an employer must educate managers and employees about what constitutes discrimination and harassment, how to report such conduct, and how to best investigate and deal with such conduct. Almost all countries have laws and regulations regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace (see, e.g., Gender Identity And Expression In The Workplace, addressing Canadian law); each country and even each jurisdiction has regulations and case law interpretations that must be understood and addressed in the workplace. See your Ally Law member firm employment lawyer to assure that your company is legally and appropriately training your personnel, setting policies and procedures, and handling complaints. Global Ally Law member firms have employment and labor law departments staying up to date with these laws as they evolve. For more information about Ally Law member firm services in this area, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.