Personal Injury

Know Your Rights Regarding Sexual Assault in the Workplace

sexual assault in workplace

The typical worker spends 33% of their time (55 hours) each week participating in work-related activities. The time we spend at work has a significant effect on our overall emotional and physical health.

If you’re a victim of sexual assault in the workplace, those 55 hours per week can be something akin to torture.

Not everyone is affected by sexual violence in the same way. Nonetheless, sexual violence can have a profound effect on your employment and sense of security.

You deserve to feel safe in your workplace. If you’ve experienced sexual violence or harassment in the workplace, it’s vital to know your rights. Keep reading to learn more about your options.

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment and Assault in Michigan

First, it’s important to know how the state of Michigan views sexual assault and harassment.

Sexual assault is defined as any form of unwanted sexual conduct obtained without consent, and/or obtained through the use of force, the threat of force, coercion, or intimidation. There are four degrees of criminal sexual conduct covering a range of sexual contact and levels of force or coercion.

Under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, there are two broad categories of sexual harassment:

  1. Quid pro quo harassment
  2. Hostile work environment

This law defines harassment as any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and/or any other form of physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made a condition of gaining or retaining employment, education, housing, or public services
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a factor in decisions related to the victim’s employment, housing, education, or public service access
  • Such conduct has the purpose OR effect of substantially interfering with the victim’s employment, education, or public service environment

Under Michigan and federal law, sexual harassment and assault are illegal sexual discrimination and are punishable both as criminal offenses and as civil offenses under which a person can seek compensation.  

That said, dealing with these situations in real life is often complicated, especially if the harassment or assault is made a condition of gaining or retaining employment. This is how many harassers gain and retain power over their victims.

Understand that as a victim, you have options and rights.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is the most common scenario in workplace sexual harassment and assault cases.

In a sexually hostile work environment, a victim is repeatedly subjected to offensive sexual conduct. This happens when a colleague, supervisor, or employer says or does things that make the victim very uncomfortable because of their sex.

It’s important to be clear on two points:

  1. Harassment can occur even if no one makes a specific demand for sexual favors
  2. Victims are most often female but can be male

Typically, in order to prove the case for a hostile work environment, the harassment must be severe and persistent. An occasional offensive joke is not sufficient, as courts often view them as “stray remarks”.

There are rare cases where a single incident is considered sufficient grounds for a hostile work environment, but a single case of extreme aggression, such as an extreme physical assault, can be used to prove a hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Then, there’s quid pro quo harassment, which is the most explicit form of workplace sexual harassment.

In Latin, quid pro quo means “this for that”. In these cases, the victim is typically asked to perform some sort of sexual favor in exchange for getting or keeping their job or for getting favorable work conditions, raises or promotions. That said, it can be any sort of exchange or bargain struck between two parties on a sexual basis.

Under Michigan law, any sort of exchange involving sexual activity in an employment setting is illegal.

The Rights of the Victim

If you are a victim of workplace sexual assault or harassment, you have rights and processes you can access.

First, if you have been mistreated, harassed, or abused in the workplace, you have the legal right to make a complaint to your employer, even if the misconduct came from a supervisor. Your employer is legally forbidden from retaliating against you for making such a report. If they do, you are entitled to sue for emotional damages.

When you make a complaint, it’s best to put your complaint in writing. If you give your complaint orally, management may deny ever having heard it or may try to claim that they misunderstood you.

Once a complaint is made, management is legally obligated to investigate and take the appropriate action based on their findings. For example, they could fire the perpetrator if they found evidence that the claim is true.

Remember: regardless of the results of the investigation, your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for making the complaint.

It’s also wise to contact the police and a qualified sexual assault and abuse attorney, as any form of sexual assault is a crime.

The Rights of the Accused

Now, just as the victim is entitled to make a complaint and request that action be taken to reestablish a safe working environment, the accused is also entitled to a fair process.

If an accusation is made, both the victim and the alleged perpetrator are entitled to a thorough and fair investigation of the complaint. It’s important to remember that all accusations must be taken seriously, but the appropriate measures must be followed to ensure that the event did take place and that all involved parties have a safe working environment.

The Rights of the Employer

Then, there’s the employer, who has their own set of responsibilities in cases like this.

First, employers should have a workplace harassment policy signed by all employees, indicating that they understand and agree to the terms of the policy.

Second, employers are legally obligated to take all accusations of sexual harassment and assault seriously. These accusations must be investigated as soon as they are received.

An employer is not liable for the intentional actions of an employee unless it allowed such behavior to continue unchecked. However, the employer could be liable for negligent hiring or supervision if they knowingly hired someone who previously lost a job on sexual misconduct or failed to conduct a background check or ignored information available to it.

Have You Been a Victim of Sexual Assault in the Workplace?

Sexual assault in the workplace can rattle your whole world. You have to go to work every day dreading your abuser and afraid of the conditions you may face at work.

You have the right to a safe work environment and an employer who will take steps to protect you from harm. If you suffered sexual assault and harassment, you don’t need to suffer in silence.

We provide experienced, compassionate legal guidance to guide you through trying times. We know the unique hardships faced by victims of sexual violence and we know that you shouldn’t have to fight alone.

If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, click here to schedule your free consultation.

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Evan Pappas

Evan Pappas's Bio

Evan Pappas is passionate about helping people that may have been injured in an accident; auto, trucking, motorcycle, medical negligence, police brutality, sex abuse and assault and others.