Know Your Rights Regarding Sexual Assault in the 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:
- Quid pro quo
- Hostile work
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
- 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
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
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:
can occur even if no one makes a specific demand for sexual favors
- 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
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
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
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
If you need to speak with an attorney about
your options, click here to schedule your free consultation.