Since 1964 and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination based on sex and any form of sexual harassment has been prohibited in workplaces nationwide. Preceding that, the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1959 created the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) to “prevent and eliminate the practice of discrimination in employment.” The commission through the years expanded the reach of discrimination to include sexual harassment.
Employers in Ohio are obligated by both state and federal law to “prevent and eliminate” sexual harassment in the workplace, and when it does occur, to investigate and take the necessary measures to correct the situation.
Employees are likewise protected against sexual harassment in the workplace and can seek remedies through the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or legal action under certain circumstances.
If you’ve been involved in a sexual harassment situation as either an employer or employee in or around the Dayton, Ohio area, our team at Duwel Law can guide you toward the most appropriate course of action. We also proudly serve clients throughout Montgomery County, Miami County, Greene County, Darke County, and Warren County, Ohio.
According to regulations issued by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical contact constitute sexual harassment when one of three factors is present:
Submission to the conduct is made a condition of employment in either an explicit or implicit manner
Submission to or rejection of the conduct will be used to determine an employment decision regarding the individual
The conduct unreasonably interferes with the person’s work performance or creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment
Under either Ohio law or the U.S. Civil Rights Act, courts have generally considered the circumstances in determining whether sexual harassment occurred. In addition to overt advances, examples include messages and sexual touching, sexual teasing, jokes and comments, certain personal gifts, the display of sexually suggestive material, and personal questions about a person’s sexual life. A woman who is subject to constant physical or verbal bullying just because she is a woman can also bring a claim of sexual harassment even though the conduct is not sexually explicit.
The Civil Rights Act and its protections and prohibitions apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Ohio Civil Rights Act and regulations issued by the OCRC apply to employers with four or more employees.
Though the stereotype of a sexual harasser might begin with a supervisor imposing sexual conditions on an employee, the category does not stop there. Coworkers can also commit acts of sexual harassment under many of the examples and conditions discussed above, as can vendors and others who visit the business.
Employees have a responsibility to report sexual harassment to their employers through a recognized channel of communications, whether that means going to a supervisor, the human resources department, or the employer themselves. Being silent may only invite continued or renewed harassment.
The employer has an obligation to not only prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace but also to investigate and take action when incidents of sexual harassment are reported, whether by the victim or by a coworker who has witnessed the conduct.
Employees are often fearful of reporting acts of sexual harassment due to a variety of factors: They may fear being ignored, ridiculed, or being retaliated against by being demoted, passed over for advancement, denied privileges others enjoy, or even being terminated.
Workplace retaliation, however, is prohibited by both federal and state law. An employee can file a charge of retaliation with the OCRC. The employee can also bring a lawsuit within six years of the act of retaliation.
If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment and your employer refuses or neglects to undertake an immediate investigation and take corrective action, you are within your right to file a claim of sexual harassment with either the OCRC or the EEOC, which enforces the Civil Rights Act on the federal level.
The state commission places a two-year limitation on filing employment-based claims. The EEOC has a 180-day window from the date of the incident to file a charge. The deadline is extended to 300 days when there is an applicable state or local law.
Under federal law, you must first file with the EEOC before you can sue the harasser, and then only after the EEOC concludes its investigation and issues a “right to sue” letter, which could cover both employer and harasser. Under Ohio law, however, you can directly sue the harasser under Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02(J).
Under both state and federal law, the employer can only be sued if the harasser qualifies as a supervisor and the harassment results in a “tangible employment action,” which could include denial of promotion, reassignment to lesser duties, and other adverse actions.
Whether employer or employer, an incident of sexual harassment can have huge ramifications both individually and companywide. It’s best for the employer to put policies and practices in place that can thwart any potential incident of sexual harassment. The employer is also responsible for taking swift action when sexual harassment is reported. Employees should feel safe at work and free to report any incidents of harassment or discrimination.
If you find yourself on either side of a sexual harassment incident at work — as an employer or as an employee — you can rely on us at Duwel Law to investigate the situation, discuss your options with you, and help you seek the best available remedy. If you live in Dayton, Ohio, or the surrounding area and you believe you've been the victim of sexual harassment, contact our office today for help.