The most effective way for an employee to stop sexual harassment is to place the employer on notice that the harassment has occurred. If the employer can establish lack of knowledge, that presents a factual dispute on which the employee may or may not have success. While other forms of communication are also effective, in today’s day and age, the most effective way to provide notice to an employer is via email as proof can be established, if necessary, that a complaint was provided. It is all too easy for an employer to claim an employee never informed the employer of the unwelcomed conduct if it was only done verbally. For this reason, an employee should always try to put a complaint in writing.
If a policy and procedure of complaining about sexual harassment exists, the employee should follow it. Informing an unrelated co-worker about what occurred is usually not enough, as that is generally insufficient to place the employer on notice. Generally, an employee must inform his/her supervisor or someone in human resources. If, in a more difficult case, a human resource department does not exist and the employee’s supervisor is the perpetrator of the sexual harassment, then the employee should inform a higher or different supervisor, or an owner. If, in the most extreme case, the employee’s boss is the sexual harassment perpetrator and also the owner, there is no other supervisor and a human resource department does not exist, then it really would not matter as that is clearly not co-worker to co-worker sexual harassment. In that extreme case, the employer is strictly liable and does not have a defense (other than to say the harassment did not occur).
Sexual harassment continues to occur because employers do not learn, do not want to learn and do not adequately train their supervisors and managers. While sexual harassment could occur from a female supervisor towards a male subordinate, a female supervisor towards a female subordinate or a male supervisor towards a male subordinate, the typical case is generally a male supervisor towards a female subordinate.
Supervisors, managers and owners of businesses oftentimes perceive themselves as having a sense of entitlement. When that sense of entitlement creeps its way into physical attraction at the office by a supervisor towards a subordinate, that is generally when sexual harassment originates. It may also occur if off-color jokes, other vulgarities, etc., are being done in the presence of a female subordinate in a heavily male-dominated office, wherein the employee is caused to feel uncomfortable and it continues over her objections. Of course, it is very possible unearthed feelings or attraction towards another employee are suddenly communicated, broadcasted or acted upon, without notice. This generally occurs when office personalities are mixed at social events, often times with the presence of alcohol. Please see a revised version of a published article written by Marc Garbar on this very issue.