Legal Minute with Cooley Shrair: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (Mass Appeal) –  What do you do if you are being sexually harassed at work?  We are talking to Attorney Robert Dambrov of the Law Offices of Cooley Shrair about how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

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What is sexual harassment in employment?

There is both a federal law and a Massachusetts law which protects employees from being sexually harassed. “Sexual harassment” means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

(a) submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions (this is commonly called “quid pro quo” harassment); or,

(b) such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment (this is commonly called hostile work environment harassment).

The law requires that the sexual conduct be severe or pervasive. Pervasive means not just one, but a number of incidents. Thus, one severe incident, such as a physical touching or use of extremely offensive language, can amount to sexual harassment where one mildly inappropriate comment would not. On the other hand, a number of less severe offensive comments can be found to be pervasive enough to rise to the legal level of being sexual harassment.

What are some examples of sexually harassing conduct?

There are many examples, such as sexual joking, talking about one’s sex life, showing sexual pictures or objects, commenting about someone’s body or sexual activity, and brushing up against someone’s body.

What should an employee do if they feel they have been sexually harassed?

They should make a complaint to their employer immediately. Most employers now have a sexual harassment policy which states what to do and who to complain to. An employer is automatically liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor, but is not liable for sexual harassment by a co-worker until the employer is made aware of such conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

If the employer fails to correct the problem, what should the employee do?

The employee can file a complaint with either the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You only need to file with one of the agencies because that agency sends the complaint to the other agency and the complaint is considered to be filed at both agencies. It is important to note that a complaint must be filed at either agency within 300 days after the unlawful conduct occurs although there are some exceptions such as if the unlawful conduct is deemed to be of a continuing nature. After filing with the agency, the employee can leave it there for processing or can remove it and start a court suit.

About Cooley Shrair:

Cooley, Shrair P.C., founded in 1946 by Judge Sidney M. Cooley and Attorney Edward B. Cooley, is a progressive law firm located in Springfield, MA. Cooley Shrair provides unequaled service to its clients. Our unparalleled response time to our clients’ needs is the foundation of our mission statement.

At Cooley Shrair, family and business have always had a way of blending together. We know the importance of balancing the boardroom and the courtroom with the living room from time to time. We listen carefully to understand our clients’ concerns and work vigorously with them to develop strategies for success. It’s not just business, it’s personal.

We pride ourselves in being the most responsive lawyers in the area, covering virtually every area of practice for individuals and multinational corporations across the United States and Canada. Cooley Shrair is recognized consistently for exceeding client expectations and providing competent, integrated, and cost-effective legal services.

Our attorneys are each distinguished in their respective areas of concentration and are complemented by a professional support staff. Cooley Shrair is a formidable opponent who fiercely advocates on behalf of our clients and we take pride in our commitment to provide unparalleled response and unparalleled solutions.

We’re a family, and to us, that’s very personal business.

Promotional consideration provided by Cooley Shrair.

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