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Sexual harassment and a hostile work environment: What to know

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2024 | Sexual Harassment |

Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in Kentucky’s workplaces. Those who are subjected to this behavior can feel unsafe on the job, and their emotional, mental, and physical well-being can be put at risk. And those who are brave enough to report harassment can be retaliated against in a way that negatively impacts their career, thus resulting in financial losses.

To recoup these losses, those who have been subjected to sexual harassment may need to take legal action. How do you prove that sexual harassment has led to a hostile work environment?

What is a hostile work environment?

Not all uncomfortable situations constitute a hostile work environment. To be considered a hostile work environment, in the legal sense of the phrase, your employer must create an environment that is hostile towards you based on your presence in a protected class, such as your gender, and that disrupts your ability to fulfill your job responsibilities. Sexual harassment is oftentimes viewed as a severe form of sex or gender discrimination, which then renders a workplace hostile.

How to prove sexual harassment and a hostile work environment

If you want to act against your employer for sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment, then you’ll have to show that your employer created or tolerated circumstances that left you feeling intimidated or offended. You’ll also need to show that your employer took a tangible action against you, such as by demoting, passing over for promotion, reassigning to a less favorable assignment, or firing you.

In other words, your employer’s actions should have created a substantial change in your work responsibilities, pay, or benefits in order to justify legal action. But if the sexual harassment in question prevented you from fulfilling your job duties, then you might also want to consider legal action, especially if it led to poor performance evaluation and subsequent adverse employment action.

What defenses will you face in a sexual harassment and hostile work environment case?

Even if you’ve been sexually harassed on the job, there’ll still be work to do to prove your employment law claim. In many of these cases, employers argue that they shouldn’t be held responsible because they had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place and the victim failed to adhere to mandatory reporting protocols spelled out in that policy. Therefore, much of the defense in your case will focus on your employer’s actions to remedy the sexual harassment that was reported to them and any shortcomings on your end when it came to reporting it.

The behavior at hand might come into question, too. The employer might try to argue that it wasn’t severe enough to constitute sexual harassment or a hostile work environment, thereby attacking the very foundation of your case. So, you’ll need to ensure that you have evidence in your case to demonstrate how the sexual harassment to which you were subjected was frequent and serious.