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© 2019 The Stephens Law Firm.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Stephens Law Firm practices law in the State of Washington.  Although this site provides general information about sexual harassment in the workplace, if you are not a resident of Washington or the acts did not occur in Washington you should consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction.  IF YOU BELIEVE YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE, DO NOT RELY ON THIS WEBSITE/BLOG TO MAKE IMPORTANT LEGAL DECISIONS. EACH CASE VARIES AND EMPLOYMENT LAW/SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES ARE FACT DRIVEN. THAT MEANS WHAT MAY HOLD TRUE AS A GENERAL PRINCIPAL MAY NOT HOLD TRUE IN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCE.  WE URGE YOU TO ALWAYS CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY THAT PRACTICES IN THIS FIELD BEFORE MAKING ANY IMPORTANT LEGAL DECISION.  

CROSSING THE LINE

Q. My boss keeps hitting on me and touching me. He doesn't seem to get the hint that I am not interested. How do I get this to stop without losing my job?

A. This is always a difficult. Everyone needs a J-O-B to pay the rent. That's what makes your boss' conduct even more despicable. He is taking advantage of your fear that he will have you fired. Talk to your boss about his behavior and tell him to stop. Be clear that all you want is a work relationship. If you don't feel comfortable having that conversation then go to human resources or another member of management. Tell them everything that happened — EVERYTHING. Do not minimize his conduct.  Remember the reason you are in this position has everything to do with his  decision to cross boundaries.   What you say, and what you do not say, will be used against you. You should also consider consulting with an employment law attorney  to assure your interests are protected. 

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Q. I have heard people talk about Title VII and the WLAD. What's the difference?

A. Title VII is the federal law that protects you from discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The WLAD, or Washington Law Against Discrimination, is the state law that protects you from harassment, discrimination and retaliation. While federal and state law provide similar, but not identical, protections, there are differences between the two laws.
First, the federal law only applies to businesses that have a minimum of 15 employees. The WLAD applies to businesses that have 8 or more employees and Washington residents working at smaller employers are protected against discrimination under Washington's common law.
Second, federal law only allows you to encompass acts that occurred in the past 300 days in any claim while Washington law allows you to bring a claim for acts that occurred in the past 3 years.
Third, Title VII has limitations on what you can recover, while the WLAD does not.
Fourth. the WLAD is considered to be more employee-friendly while Title VII is considered more friendly to employers.  There are a number of other material differences in the laws that your attorney can explain to you.

Q. What is Quid Pro Quo harassment?

A. Quid Pro Quo simply means this for that. Quid Pro Quo harassment means that someone has offered you some form of job benefit (e.g. better hours, continued employment, pay increase, etc.) and the expectation in return is that you provide some form of sexual favor. 

Q. Will filing a claim really make a difference in the workplace?

A. Most people underestimate the power of a properly presented sexual harassment case. I have had the privilege of working with many courageous people that were willing to draw a line in the sand and say, "No more!"  When they stand up and hold the company accountable for its actions, change happens and corporate culture changes. I remember a case many years ago in which a sexual harassment lawsuit led to the first-ever sexual harassment training in a multi-national corporation. That's meaningful change.

CARL'S CONFUSION

Q.  My boss keeps coming on to me. She knows I am married but she won't take no for an answer. To make matters worse my guy co-workers tell me I should take accept her overtures. Some have even questioned my masculinity because I keep turning down her advances. I know a woman can make a claim for sexual harassment but can I make a claim based on the conduct of my female boss?

A. Many men run into this problem. They mistakenly believe that claims for sexual harassment can only be made by a female. Remember sexual harassment is all about power and control. Your boss has crossed the line. Don't worry about what your male peers think. You are right to feel that you have been wronged. Since your boss appears not to be concerned about her actions and won't stop, you need to report her conduct to Human Resources, another member of management or consult with an experienced employment lawyer. Don't be embarrassed. Make the report and tell Human Resources you want this to stop now.

Q. Is it sexual harassment if I am harassed by a member of the same sex?

A.  This is a great question. There was a time when sexual harassment by members of the same sex was not considered actionable. Today, the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and Title VII provide protections against harassment by a member of your gender.
 

Q.  What is Quid Pro Quo harassment?

A. Quid Pro Quo simply means this for that. Quid Pro Quo harassment means that someone has offered you some form of job benefit (e.g. better hours, continued employment, pay increase, etc.) and the expectation in return is that you provide some form of sexual favor. 
 

Q.  I reported sexual harassment and now I feel like I am being treated differently. Is there anything I can do?

A.  When you report sexual harassment to your employer, you are considered to have engaged in protected activity. An employer is not allowed to take adverse action against you because of your report. That means your employer can't punish you for reporting sexual harassment.  The ways in which employers have punished employees is only limited by their imagination. If you believe you are being retaliated against, report this to Human Resources, consult a seasoned employment law attorney, or file a complaint with the EEOC.  It would also be prudent to consult your employee handbook to determine if there is a recommended reporting protocol used by your company. 
 

Q.  Can you give me some tips on what to do if I am experiencing sexual harassment?

A. Here are some of the things you should consider doing: 
• Obtain a copy of the company handbook and read the policy on reporting harassment.
• Report the conduct immediately. Don’t sugarcoat what happened. Give all the details. Who. What. When. Where. Lay it all on the table. Put HR or management in a position where they have to act.
• If nothing is done, take it up the ladder.
• Confirm all conversations with a follow up email, like this:
 
Dear (insert name):
Thanks for meeting with me to discuss my report of sexual harassment. It is my understanding the following my report you were going to ___________________. If you need any additional information, please call me or email me.
Best regards,
 
Always be courteous in your communications, even when you are frustrated.
• Unless you are communicating with HR or management about an issue related to harassment in the workplace, NEVER use company email or devices to talk to anyone about your harassment claim.
• Document, document, document. Keep a notebook detailing all of the events. Keep the notebook at home and don’t bring it on company property. Also, if you are going to keep your notes on a computer, don’t put it on the company laptop, tablet or smart phone.
• Be on the alert for retaliation and report it immediately.
• If none of this works, consult a seasoned employment law attorney.

BROKEN PROMISES

Q.  I was dating my manager. We were together for almost 2 years. Now that I have broken up with him, it's like he makes a point to make my job difficult.  All of sudden there is nothing I can do right. Today, we were in a meeting and he tore into me in front of my co-workers for something that was out of my control. How do I make him stop?

A.  Your manager obviously cannot draw the line between his personal issues and work. That is his problem not yours. I am assuming that you have already told him the conduct needs to end. What he is doing is considered retaliation. You need to report his conduct to human resources or his manager. Make it clear that you want this to stop and to be treated like everyone else. If the conduct continues after you make your report, then make sure you go back to human resources/management to let them know they need to make it stop. If you don't get resolution using internal processes, it might be time to consult an with a seasoned employment law attorney.

Q. My boss is a jerk and bullies me. Does that mean I can bring a claim for a hostile work environment?

A.  When a lawyer thinks about a hostile work environment or uses that term, she is probably thinking about a workplace where a person is being treated differently because of a protected characteristic such as race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, age, etc. In the context of sexual harassment, when lawyers refer to hostile work environment sexual harassment they mean a person is being harassed because of their sex. The harassing conduct can include unwelcome and unwanted sexual harassment, unwelcome touching, and offensive remarks about a person's sex (e.g. "She's a b*tch", "That's women's work" etc.). The conduct rises to the level of being legally actionable when it creates a hostile or offensive work environment and is so frequent and severe that it takes an emotional or physical toll on a person, impacts how you work or your ability to work, or results in some form of adverse employment action. 
 
Now let's talk about the boss that is a jerk or a bully.  Presently there are no laws prohibiting workplace bullying.  The key inquiry is whether the boss is being a  jerk or a bully to people of a specific gender. In other words, we have to look at the boss's conduct. Is he being a jerk to women but not men? Is he engaged in conduct that is offensive to women? How does he treat your male peers? Generally, when we get into the specifics of what the bully/jerk boss is doing, we find that his actions tend to adversely impact one gender over the other. 
 
It may be a good idea to consult with an experienced employment law attorney to get some direction.
 

Q. I am meeting with my boss tomorrow, I am thinking about secretly recording the meeting on my phone. Should I do it?

A.  No. Let me repeat myself...NO!! Washington is a state that requires two party consent to record a conversation. If you secretly record the conversation you will commit a crime, potentially expose yourself to civil liability and give your employer a legitimate basis to terminate you. Rather than recording it secretly ask your boss if you can record the meeting. If your boss says no, take notes and, immediately after the meeting, write down everything you remember about the meeting including what was said, facial expressions, how you felt and what, if anything, was promised.