Sexual Assault in the Workplace

Since 2017, when the #MeToo movement caught on, more and more people have shared their experiences as victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault at work. The movement uncovered just how much sexual harassment and sexual assault are in the workplace. Yet, even today, after raising awareness of these issues, many women and men are still subject to being sexually harassed and sexually assaulted at work.

workplace sexual assault

What is sexual assault?

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, Tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent. However, sexual assault is much more than sexual intrusion or penetration of a sex organ or body part in a sexual region or orally. 

Sexual assault can occur when someone uses an object in a sexual manner without the victim’s consent. Furthermore, any type of touching and groping of a sexual nature, either using one’s hands, another body part, or an object, is also considered sexual assault. 

What is sexual consent, and why is it important?

Sexual consent is a mutual agreement between two adults to engage in sexual acts. In this day and age, workplace romances are bound to happen, resulting in sexual encounters. However, it is important to remember that sexual consent can be given and taken away. 

Just because someone at work consents once does not imply they will consent again. Nor should it imply the person wants to continue engaging in future sexual encounters. Furthermore, consent can be withdrawn at any time, even immediately after it was given. Failure to stop when consent is withdrawn is sexual assault. 

Sexual Assault vs. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined by the United State Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature

Furthermore, sexual harassment does not have to involve a sexual context. For example, making offensive remarks about someone’s sexual identity or gender can be construed as harassment. In addition, sexual harassment can include non-verbal gestures and any unwanted touching that makes you feel uncomfortable, like massaging one’s shoulders. 

Even the act of intentionally brushing up against another is harassment. It also includes situations where there is a hostile work environment because the harassment is so frequent and unregulated. 

While sexual harassment in the workplace is a civil law violation, it is not a criminal law violation, like sexual assault. Sexual assault victims can file a formal criminal complaint with local law enforcement and seek monetary damages in civil court for being sexually assaulted. A sexual harassment victim only has the option of seeking monetary damages in civil court. 

Sexual Assault in the Workplace Statistics

One 2019 study found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. This study found that most incidents of harassment take place in a public setting, like work environments, restaurants, retail stores, etc. It also found that most sexual assaults took place in private residences or homes

In 2019, the University of Florida conducted a sexual harassment and sexual assault survey of students 18 and older. The study found:

  • 45% of UF students experienced some form of harassment.
  • 3.9% of graduate men and 19 percent of graduate women experienced sexual assault.
  • 7.7% of undergraduate men and 30.1% of undergraduate women experienced sexual assault.
  • 14.8% of nonbinary, genderqueer, or transgender students were sexually assaulted.
  • Disabled students and those part of the LGBTQ+ community were twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual students. 

According to the EEOC, the monetary benefits from sexual harassment injury claims from 2018 to 2021 amounted to $299.8 million, with 8,147 people receiving monetary damages

Other workplace sexual harassment statistics, as reported by GoRemotely, include the following:

  • 32% of employees were unaware that jokes of a sexual nature are a form of sexual harassment
  • One in five workplace sexual harassment complaints are filed by men.
  • 26% of sexual harassment complaints were from rural areas.
  • There was an 8% increase in virtual sexual harassment complaints. 

Sexual Assault at Work: Understanding the Costs

There are several costs associated with sexual harassment and sexual assault at work. For starters, there are legal costs associated with these types of personal injury claims. For the injured party, their settlement will cover their attorney’s fees. 

However, the company will have to pay its own legal fees. The costs for their worker’s compensation and liability insurance can also increase from sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. If they lack insurance, they will have to cover the cost of the settlement out of their own pocket

Next, there are employee costs, including lower productivity, increased absences, and employee turnover. Each of these factors has a negative impact on a company’s bottom line and earnings. 

Sexual Harassment and Assault Victim’s Rights

A victim of a sexual assault that occurred at a workplace may be able to file a third-party claim against his or her employer. Depending on the circumstances, several different types of claims may be available. 

For example, the employer may be liable for negligently maintaining the premises or for creating unsafe or dangerous conditions, such as inadequate lighting or poorly maintained locks or security systems. 

Also, the employer may be liable for creating or permitting a hostile work environment by not controlling the actions of the victim’s superiors or co-workers. Hostile work environment harassment generally exists if unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment environment. 

Several other factual scenarios may create liability on the employer’s part, such as “quid pro quo harassment,” in which an employee must either accede to sexual demands or forfeit job benefits, lose perks, or otherwise be subject to less favorable working conditions. 

If you or someone close to you suffered workplace sexual assault, an experienced attorney can help you determine how to proceed.

Liability for Employees’ Acts

An employer may be held liable for the acts of its employees, and, under some circumstances, even a single extremely traumatic incident, such as a rape or a violent sexual assault, may create a hostile environment. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace may also include behaviors less serious than sexual assault, such as:

  • Telling sexually offensive jokes
  • Questioning or commenting on someone’s sexuality
  • Displaying sexually explicit pictures
  • Spreading sexual rumors
  • Making comments about someone’s clothing or body
  • Repeatedly propositioning someone after a refusal
  • Standing near or rubbing against a person
  • Making suggestive gestures or noise
  • Extorting sexual cooperation. 

Employers generally are liable for a hostile work environment only if they knew or should have known about the harassment. Although in some cases, an employer may be liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor it employs, even if the employer has no knowledge of the harassment. 

Many state laws focus on whether the sexual assault occurred during the scope of the assailant’s employment, and many courts question an employer’s liability if the injuries occur off the work site or after hours. 

While an employer that has allowed inappropriate or offensive behavior to occur or has been negligent in hiring has faced potential liability for many years, an employer that attempts to implement policies and procedures to prevent liability may be responsible for damages in some cases.

Consequences of a Workplace Assault

For a victim who was assaulted by a co-worker or a supervisor, the consequences of the crime can be severe. The victim may no longer feel physically safe at work. He or she may fear retaliation by the employer or the assailant if they report the assault. As a result, the victim may quit their job or experience attendance problems. 

If you have been assaulted at your workplace, your safety is a major concern. You must contact a law firm experienced in workplace sexual assault as soon as possible to get the protection you need. An expert attorney can help you plan for your safety with your employer and, if necessary, obtain a restraining order that applies to your workplace.

Related: Miami Uber Sexual Assault Attorney

If the assault was caused or encouraged by a hostile work environment or has resulted in a hostile environment, your employer must cooperate in fixing the situation. Possible remedies may include removing the perpetrator from your workplace or firing them. An experienced attorney can help you work with your employer to create a safe atmosphere for you at your job.

Compensation

If you were assaulted at work or during your job, you may have several avenues for obtaining compensation. State victim’s funds may provide assistance, and you may bring a claim in court against either the perpetrator or your employer. 

Under certain circumstances, you may also be able to receive compensation for your injuries, medical bills, and lost wages through Workers’ Compensation Insurance. An experienced Miami sexual abuse and assault attorney who handles cases in the workplace will be able to help you sort through the many options and choose the one that’s best for you.

How to File for Sexual Assault at Work

Filing a claim of sexual harassment or sexual assault at work in Florida requires filing a complaint with either the EEOC or the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). You only need to file the complaint with one agency. However, you only have one year to submit your complaint. 

Once the agency receives your complaint, they will investigate the matter. If they find your complaint is warranted, there is a process where your employer is given the opportunity to remedy the situation through mediation. 

If you are able to come to a settlement during mediation, your case will be considered resolved. However, if you cannot settle or the agency cannot substantiate your claim, you will need to file a lawsuit. Once you have been issued a “Right to Sue” letter by the agency, you only have 90 days to file your case with the court.

At this point, your case could still be settled before it goes to trial. Otherwise, you will need to litigate your case in court. 

In addition, you can file a criminal complaint for sexual assault against the responsible individual. However, before doing so, it is best to consult with a sexual harassment and sexual assault injury attorney to determine which legal options are in your best interest. 

Please keep in mind your employer may have specific reporting procedures as well. While you are not legally obligated to report sexual harassment or sexual assault to your employer, reporting it can make establishing and proving your claim easier. 

Some employers will downplay the seriousness of your claim. They may also attempt to offer you a meager settlement when you could be entitled to substantially more. Therefore, you should always get your own legal advice from your own lawyer. 

How to Find a Lawyer

The easiest way to find a lawyer to discuss your legal options after being sexually harassed or assaulted is to look for a personal injury lawyer with expertise in sexual harassment, abuse, and assault claims, like Bernstein & Maryanoff in Miami, FL

Our law firm offers a free consultation to assess your situation and determine if there are grounds to proceed with a civil injury claim against the perpetrator and your employer. Additionally, we can assist you with filing your complaint with the EEOC or the FCHR. 

We also provide legal advice to help you make informed decisions if you wish to pursue a criminal complaint against the perpetrator. 

Additional Sexual Assault Resources and Information

Sources:

Gordon, S. (2022). What Is the #MeToo Movement?  

Sexual Assault. (2018).

Sexual Harassment. (2018).  

National Prevalence of Sexual Harassment and Assault. (2019). 

UF Releases Results of 2019 Sexual Assault and Misconduct Survey. (2019). 

Sexual Harassment in Our Nation’s Workplaces. (2022). 

Mrkonjic, E., (2022). 27 Alarming Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Statistics.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.