Every employee in Maryland, regardless of gender, has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment that is free from sexual harassment. If you or someone you know is suffering at their job from workplace sexual harassment, you do not have to go through this alone. At HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP our team of dedicated legal professionals is here to zealously advocate for your legal interests and protect you from sexual harassment in the workplace. To learn more, call or contact our office today to schedule a consultation of your case.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as any of the following — unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating or hostile work environment or that unreasonably interferes with that individual’s employment. Sexual harassment includes harassment of a sexual nature as well as harassment regarding a person’s sex.
Sexual harassment can take many forms, including visual conduct, verbal conduct, and physical conduct. Some of the most common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include the following:
- Demanding sex in exchange for continued employment, a raise, or promotion
- Disseminating information about an employee’s sex life
- Making jokes of a sexual nature
- Inappropriate touching
- Making unwelcome sexual advancements
- Making statements about the worth of an employee based on their sex
- Sexually assaulting an employee, and more.
According to a report by the EEOC, approximately 40% of women in the workplace experience one or more sexually-driven behaviors while on the job, and as many as 60% of women surveyed in 2018 reported some type of sexual harassment in their adult lives. However, sexual harassment can happen to employees of all gender identities, and their harassers can be any gender identity, as well.
Harm Caused by Sexual Harassment in Maryland
Victims often suffer physical and emotional harm as a result of sexual harassment in the workplace. The stress of working in a hostile environment brought on by sexual harassment can manifest itself physically in the forms of headaches, back aches, weight fluctuations, nausea and vomiting, blood pressure changes, ulcers, and fatigue. The harm of sexual harassment can also cause psychological harm in the forms of feeling weak, insomnia, self-blaming, anger, depression, anxiety, tension, and other emotional distress. This type of workplace harassment can also cause financial harm to victims if they take sick leave or vacation days without pay, quit their job, or transfer in order to avoid their harassers. It can also result in financial harm if the employer takes an adverse employment action against them, such as termination or demotion, for reporting the abuse.
How to File a Sexual Harassment Claim
There is a process to filing a sexual harassment claim at work, and an experienced employment law attorney in Baltimore can help you through each step. The first step is to file a report with your employer’s human resources department. Most companies require a report to human resources in order to do their own internal investigation into the issue. However, in many cases this is not enough to fully resolve a sexual harassment case; the harasser may have too much influence within the organization or the culture of sexual harassment may be too engrained in the company culture. If this is the case, the next step is to take the claim to the government.
The next step in a sexual harassment claim involves filing a complaint with the EEOC. The purpose of this agency is to investigate allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace nationwide. In order to file a valid claim, the complaint must be sent to the EEOC within 180 days of the latest incident of sexual harassment. The EEOC then does their own investigation into the claims by interviewing witnesses, examining evidence, and reviewing the policies within the company’s human resources department. If the EEOC finds that sexual harassment occurred, they have the power to punish the company and award the victim damages.
If the EEOC does not find enough evidence to take action in the case, they will issue a “right to sue” letter to the victimized employee. This allows the employee to file a lawsuit in federal court against their employer for the sexual harassment endured in their workplace. A Maryland employment lawyer can assist with every step of this process, including trying a case in federal court.
Compensation for Sexual Harassment Claims
Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace are entitled to full compensation for the harm suffered by the harasser as well as for any retaliatory action taken by their employer for reporting the harassment. Compensation includes back pay for lost pay and benefits if the claims resulted in demotion or termination, compensatory damages for emotional distress and reputational harm, any lost future earnings, attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses, and equitable relief such as reinstatement or promotion after an adverse employment action.
In the most serious cases, where the sexual harassment was extreme or the employer was willful and wanton in their negligence while handling the issue, the court may also order punitive damages. These damages go above and beyond compensatory damages and are meant to punish the employer for their behavior as well as serve as a deterrent to other companies who may consider engaging in similar behavior. A knowledgeable employment attorney will be able to advise on whether the circumstances of a case rise to the level of punitive damages.
Contact an Employment Law Attorney in Baltimore
Sexual harassment is a serious issue that happens far more often than most people realize all across Maryland workplaces. However, you do not have to suffer in silence if you or someone you know is being subjected to unwanted sexual harassment on the job. Call the office or contact us today in Baltimore at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP to speak with one of our knowledgeable employment law attorneys to learn more about your legal options.