In the past, we have touched on the legal definition of sexual harassment as given by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Oklahoma's Human Rights Commission. To recap, sexual harassment occurs when requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or unwelcome sexual advances are a condition of employment or affect the status of an employee within the employer's organization. It can also happen when such sexual conduct creates an intimidating or hostile work environment for an employee. The harasser can be a supervisor or co-worker, and often the employer is legally responsible for the conduct, even if it did not sanction or condone it.
The Oklahoma Human Rights Commission is the state entity that investigates and deals with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. There are some guidelines in the state administrative code that shed light on how the commission evaluates the validity of, and responsibility for, alleged incidents of sexual harassment. Part 335:15-3-10 of the Administrative Code defines sexual harassment, then outlines what the commission looks to in evaluating such claims. It specifies that the question of the legality of acts complained about will be answered on a case-by-case basis, looking at the totality of the circumstances, the nature of the acts complained of, and the context in which they occurred.
The code also states that employers are responsible for the actions of their supervisory employees regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known of the situation. An employer will also be responsible for the actions of other employees or even non-employees, when it knew or should have known of the harassment, but did not take remedial measures.
Finally, the code suggests that the best way for employers to fight sexual harassment is to prevent it. It indicates that employers should affirmatively raise the issue, express its disapproval strongly, engage in sensitivity training, and ensure that employees are aware of their rights and how to exercise them.
No one should be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, and employers should do everything possible to minimize the chances of such activity occurring in their organizations. If you have questions about your rights, or your specific circumstances, or want to know more about the measures you can take as an employer, you may want to consider contacting an experienced employment law attorney.