We have previously discussed a couple different types of sexual harassment or discrimination that can occur in the context of one's employment. The first is that of quid pro quo harassment. This type of illegal activity occurs when there is a specific this for that trade demanded from an employee, such as sexual favors for promotion or in order to avoid the loss of a job. While this type of harassment is more obvious, it is also less common. More often, sexual harassment or discrimination claims are of the hostile work environment variety that can be a bit less easy to identify immediately.
So, what actually constitutes a hostile work environment in Oklahoma? It may be informative to begin with what a hostile work environment is not. Supervisors who simply act like jerks to everyone, sporadic bad language or inconsistent teasing likely do not rise to an actionable level. The U.S. Department of Labor, however, does have some examples of what might constitute a hostile work environment. Some behavior that might contribute to such an environment may include unnecessary physical contact, discussion of sexual activity, comments about appearance or physical attributes, demeaning or inappropriate language or lewd or crude gestures.
As noted above, however, one or two instances of such behavior may not be found to be egregious enough to constitute harassment. As a basic rule, the DOL suggests two standards that must be met. First, the harassment has to be based upon the victim's protected characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity etc. Second is a two pronged standard that requires that the behavior or environment is subjectively abusive to the victim, and that, when viewed objectively, a reasonable person would find the behavior severe and pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile environment.
As the above suggests, whether harassment has occurred based on a hostile working environment theory will only be evident on a case-by-case analysis of specific factors involved in each individual situation. As such, anyone with a question as to whether they may have a cause of action for sexual harassment may wish to consider consulting an experienced Oklahoma employment attorney.