In Florida and elsewhere, any unwanted sexual advances, physical contact, comments or requests that make the person on the receiving end feel uncomfortable are considered sexual harassment.
When this behavior occurs in the workplace, it makes for a hostile environment and is illegal.
Understanding Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace and in other environments, but no matter where it occurs, it involves conduct, speech or behaviors that make people uncomfortable and even feel intimidated or scared. Women are more likely to be the target of sexual harassment, but men can also be victims. Sexual harassment can take on many forms, ranging from physical to verbal to written.
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How Does Florida Law Define Sexual Harassment?
Under Florida law, sexual harassment is illegal in two forms: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. This involves requests for sexual favors for some benefit in return such as a raise, promotion or continued employment.
How Sexual Harassment Cases Are Handled in Florida
In Florida, if a person is being sexually harassed, they should report the conduct to their employer. However, if the employer fails to respond to this, the individual can file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Length of Time to File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Florida
If you are being sexually harassed in Florida, you have up to 365 days of the action to file a claim with the Florida Commission on Human Relations or 300 days of the incident with the EEOC. This length of time for filing your sexual harassment complaint is considered the statute of limitations. Failing to file within that time period means your complaint cannot be handled, so it’s important to ensure that you do so timely.
What Are the Different Forms of Sexual Harassment in Florida?
There are different types of sexual harassment a person can experience in Florida. They include physical conduct, verbal and nonverbal conduct, offensive comments or jokes, hostile work environment, inappropriate touching or physical contact, unwanted sexual advances or requests for favors, quid pro quo harassment and cybersexual harassment.
Understanding Physical Conduct
Sexual harassment that involves physical conduct is self-explanatory; it involves physical touching on the part of the abuser against a victim. This can be anything from groping the person’s backside to putting an arm around their shoulder. Whatever the physical conduct is, if it’s unwanted and unwelcome, it’s considered sexual harassment.
Understanding Verbal and Nonverbal Conduct
Sexual harassment can be committed with both verbal and nonverbal conduct. Making repeated comments about someone in a sexual manner is an example of verbal conduct. Meanwhile, nonverbal conduct can involve making lewd faces or gestures to someone.
How Offensive Comments or Jokes Are Considered Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can occur when a person makes offensive comments in the workplace that bother others and make for a hostile work environment. This can be the case even if the comments are made about someone in particular but not directly about that person. Sexually-themed jokes can also make the work environment a hostile place. Generally, these things make multiple people uncomfortable even if they cause others to laugh; in some cases, a person might even laugh out of nervousness, wanting to “fit in” or worry that they might become the next target of sexual harassment.
Understanding Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment is any situation involving sexual harassment that makes employees feel ill at ease. It doesn’t matter if the comments or behavior are directed at any particular person; as long as one or more employees are uncomfortable to the point where their work is negatively affected, it can be considered a hostile work environment.
Understanding Inappropriate Touching or Physical Contact
Inappropriate touching or physical contact are exactly as they sound; when someone touches another person in an inappropriate manner or makes physical contact with them that is unwanted, it’s sexual harassment. No one in the workplace has a right to touch someone in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Sexual Harassment Through Unwanted Sexual Advances or Requests for Favors
Sexual harassment sometimes occurs through unwanted sexual advances or requests for favors. In most cases, this involves a supervisor or manager pressuring someone into doing something they ordinarily wouldn’t do in a sexual way.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment Explained
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when one person makes a demand for some kind of sexual activity in exchange for something else that might benefit the victim. The person makes a promise to give the victim something if they go on a date with them or perform a sexual act. For example, a boss promises that an employee can keep their job if they sleep with them.
Understanding Cybersexual Harassment
Cybersexual harassment takes place when a person sexually harasses someone online. It can involve inappropriate messages, photos or videos via computer, phone or tablet. Cybersexual harassment can be during work hours in the workplace or during personal time elsewhere, but it’s still sexual harassment and still against the law whenever and wherever it occurs.
What Is an Employer’s Liability for Sexual Harassment in a Florida Workplace?
If an employee experiences sexual harassment, they should report it to their immediate supervisor or manager so that the employer can be notified. Employers are obligated to take action and address the situation appropriately. This might involve conducting an investigation into the situation, interviewing the parties and other employees or even terminating the person responsible for the harassment. Under the EEOC, employers can be held liable for any sexual harassment that is known or made known to them if they fail to take the appropriate measures to rectify the situation.
Why Is Sexual Harassment Often Underreported?
Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace largely goes underreported. This is because some employees are afraid of speaking up. Their fears may be due to retaliation, threats or even worse situations if they do report being harassed. In some cases, workers are also afraid of rocking the boat, so to speak. They might believe staying silent is their best bet.
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What Are the Legal Consequences of Sexual Harassment in Florida?
In Florida, there are certain legal consequences employers can face for sexual harassment even if they were not the harassers. However, if an employer conceals an instance of sexual harassment or orders the victim not to report it, they can face both criminal and civil penalties. This might include jail time, fines, restitution, court and attorney’s fees, compensatory damages to the victim and even punitive damages in some cases.
You Have the Right to Protection from Workplace Retaliation
Employees who fear reporting sexual harassment due to workplace retaliation or who actually face retaliation after reporting it have rights. One of those rights is to be free of workplace retaliation. It is illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for filing a complaint about sexual harassment and other illegal acts.
Where to File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Florida
A sexual harassment claim in Florida should be filed directly with your employer. If your employer refuses to take appropriate action or tries to dissuade you from reporting, you can file your sexual harassment claim with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can also speak with an employment law attorney to file a lawsuit if the situation calls for it.
Always Document Everything if You Face Sexual Harassment at Work
Documenting your experience with sexual harassment at your Florida workplace is crucial. Write everything down in a journal or type it into a word processor on your personal computer. Jotting things down immediately after they happen is often best because it’s still fresh in your mind. Experiencing sexual harassment is often overwhelming and terrifying, so it’s possible to forget certain details; this is why it’s important to document everything as soon as possible. You can use all of your documentation as evidence in your claim.
How to Deal with Workplace Sexual Harassment
Workplace sexual harassment can take its toll on anyone. If you recognize the signs and realize you are dealing with sexual harassment, documenting everything is the first step. Report it to your immediate supervisor or manager at your earliest convenience. If your employer takes the appropriate action, you can take care of yourself in the meantime. Talk to someone close to you and have a shoulder to lean on for support. Seek therapy if you think that might help even more. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is any kind of unwanted comments, behavior, touching or contact of any type that makes the person on the receiving end feel uncomfortable or fearful.
How Sexual Harassment Can Affect Your Health
Sexual harassment can negatively impact many areas of your physical and mental health. It can cause anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, weight loss or weight gain, decreased self-esteem, headaches, nausea and even sexual dysfunction.
What is Sexual Harassment at Work Under Florida Law?
Under Florida law, sexual harassment in the workplace includes physical or verbal conduct, inappropriate jokes, touching or online activity directed at another person that causes them to feel ill at ease. It can also involve quid pro quo, which means asking for sexual favors in exchange for some benefit. All of these situations are illegal in Florida and elsewhere.
I Was the Victim of Sexual Harassment, What Should I Do?
If you were the target of sexual harassment, you should report it to your supervisor or manager so your employer can be notified. Your employer should then investigate the matter or take other actions such as terminating the person who harassed you. If they don’t do anything, you can file a complaint with the FCHR or EEOC or even go a step further and speak to an attorney.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for My Sexual Harassment Case?
If your sexual harassment case stems from harassment directly from your employer, it’s wise to hire a lawyer. In that situation, the sooner you retain an attorney, the better, to ensure that you can get the damages you are entitled to if your case is successful.
How Are Sexual Harassment Cases Handled in Florida?
In Florida, if you are being sexually harassed, you should report the harassment to your supervisor, who should then inform your employer. If your employer doesn’t take the appropriate action, you can file a complaint with the FCHR or EEOC or even consult with an attorney.
How Much Compensation Can I Receive for My Sexual Harassment Case in Florida?
In a Florida sexual harassment case, you can receive varying amounts of money in compensation if you win. If your employer has 15 to 100 employees, you can recover a maximum of $50,000. For employers with 101 to 200 employees, you can recover a maximum of $100,000. With 201 to 500 employees, you can recover up to $200,000. For employers that have over 500 employees, you can recover up to $300,000.
How Much Is the Average Settlement?
On average, a sexual harassment settlement is under $37,000 when settled out of court. However, they can average approximately $217,000 when the case goes to trial.
What Florida Laws Protect Against Sexual Harassment?
Florida laws under Section 110.1221 of Florida Statutes and Chapter 60L-40.001 of the Florida Administrative Code protect against sexual harassment in the workplace.
What Types of Employers Are Covered By Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws in Florida?
Employers that have at least 15 employees and local and state government agencies are covered by workplace sexual harassment laws in Florida.
Where Do You File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Florida?
In Florida, you can file a sexual harassment claim with the FCHR or EEOC.
How Long Do I Have to File a Sexual Harassment Claim in Florida?
If you are filing a sexual harassment claim in Florida with the FCHR, you have 365 days of the incident to do so. If you choose to file with the EEOC, it must be done within 300 days.
Is Sexual Harassment a Crime in Florida?
Depending on the circumstances, sexual harassment can be considered a crime in Florida and carries civil and criminal penalties for a conviction.
When Sexual Harassment Turns Criminal
Sexual harassment can turn criminal if the perpetrator escalates their behavior to stalking, assault or sexual assault.
Can You Go to Jail for Sexually Harassing Someone?
In most cases, sexual harassment is a civil claim, which doesn’t involve criminal penalties. However, if the harasser escalates their conduct to actually harming a person physically or sexually, it can lead to criminal prosecution and jail time.
What to Do if You Are Being Sexually Harassed at Work
If you’re being sexually harassed at work, document everything. Keep notes or a journal, keep all email and other online contact from the harasser and anything else that can be used as evidence. Report the harassment to your supervisor or manager so your employer can be informed and take action. If your employer doesn’t do anything or tries to persuade you to leave it alone, file a complaint with the FCHR or EEOC. You can even consult with an attorney if the situation warrants starting a lawsuit.
Who Is Liable for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Employers can be held liable for workplace sexual harassment if they don’t take the appropriate actions to hold the harasser accountable.