Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits harassment in the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that sexual harassment includes offensive conduct based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Inappropriate comments based on an employee’s pregnancy status may also reflect sexual harassment. A one-time remark may not, however, violate the law. The circumstances could change when a supervisor or coworker repeats the offensive behavior; a hostile work environment may result.
Toxic and hostile work environments
Offensive comments or unwanted actions could bring about a toxic workplace. When it becomes difficult for a reasonable employee to perform his or her duties, the environment becomes hostile. Employees have a right to file complaints with a supervisor or the company’s human resources department.
Employers owe a duty of care to take the steps needed to stop sexual harassment. If the offensive conduct continues or an employee experiences further abuse, an employer’s lack of action may represent retaliation. Persuading the employee to quit may have reflected the true intent behind the inaction.
Sexual harassment may require a lawsuit for relief
As reported by NBC’s KGET TV 17, several former and current employees of an electric vehicle manufacturer filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment “from the top of the company down.” Supervisors and coworkers allegedly made inappropriate comments based on pregnancy, sex and gender identity. Employees reported repeated catcalling, propositioning and comparisons to a cow. After communicating the issues to HR, however, the employer did not take corrective action.
Employers must remedy offensive workplace conditions when they learn of harmful and repeated occurrences. Failing to do so may result in legal action. Damages resulting from a lawsuit may include back pay that employees would have received if the work environment had not caused them to quit or experience a wrongful termination.