Workplace sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, which is illegal under federal law as well as state law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is also commonly underreported. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a report reflecting on the #MeToo Movement, stating 90% of individuals who experienced harassment in the workplace did not pursue formal corrective action. For this reason alone, it is important to know what is considered workplace sexual harassment and to whom you should report workplace sexual harassment.

Everyone deserves to feel safe and be treated with respect at their place of employment. Victims are often silenced by fear of retaliation, another form of illegal employment discrimination. They also frequently experience physical, emotional, psychological and/or financial damages as a result of their experiences. Read more about workplace sexual harassment employer responsibilities in North Carolina and South Carolina — and do not hesitate to contact an employment law attorney if you believe you may have suffered from discrimination at work.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Workplace sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. The EEOC notes that sexual harassment can take shape in a variety of ways, including nonconsensual sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct which is sexually demeaning or offensive. These actions are not always obvious. Subtle, repeated behaviors, like inappropriate jokes or remarks, also constitute harassment if they are pervasive enough to impact the work environment negatively.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is recognized under state and federal law as a violation of an employee’s rights:

  • Federal Law: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is enforced by the EEOC for employers with 15 or more employees, as well as state, federal, and local government employees, employment agencies and labor organizations.

  • State Law: The South Carolina Human Affairs Law prohibits employment discrimination, including sexual harassment, in workplaces in South Carolina, and is enforced by the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC).

Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment is characterized by the lack of consent to the behavior and the creation of a victim and a perpetrator. Importantly, there is no burden to prove the intent of the perpetrator’s actions. This person may have been acting recklessly or while under the influence of alcohol at a company-sponsored function. Damage can be done even when the aggressor did not clearly premeditate their actions.

Example scenarios of workplace sexual harassment include:

  • Quid Pro Quo Harassment: Being demoted, fired or passed over for a promotion after refusing sexual advances from your boss (or another person).

  • Hostile Environment: Regularly being subjected to offensive sexual behavior, particularly if this behavior persists after you have reported it and/or asked for it to stop. This could include lewd comments, sexual jokes, being asked about intimate details of your personal life or being subjected to pornography.

  • Stalking and Intimidation

  • Rape and Sexual Assault

These are not all the possible examples of workplace sexual harassment claims. Contact the law office of Herrmann & Murphy to discuss the details of your situation.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Case Law in North Carolina & South Carolina: 5 Takeaways

  • 1. Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

    Any employee in any workplace could experience sexual harassment. The perpetrator could be a superior, a subordinate, an industry partner or client — and they could be a member of the opposite sex OR the same sex as the victim. An employer can also be found liable for the actions of their employees when there is a pervasive culture of harassment, and the employer knew (or should have known) illegal behavior was happening.

    Sexual harassment which is based on an employee’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, whether known or assumed, may correspond to a legal claim of Sexual Orientation Discrimination or Gender Identity Discrimination.

  • 2. Permissible Behavior vs. Illegal Sexual Harassment.

    If you believe you may have experienced or witnessed illegal behavior, you should consider contacting an employment law attorney who can listen to your story and help evaluate whether or not you may have a claim. In general, a claim of illegal sexual harassment consists of:

    • A pattern of behavior (generally not a single, isolated non-serious incident)
    • Evidence of the behavior, which could be documented or witnessed
    • Evidence of the damage(s) resulting from the behavior, which can include physical, psychological, financial and mental/emotional damages
  • 3. Consensual Relationships or Acts Are Not Illegal — With an Exception.

    Lack of consent is a key element for a legal claim of sexual harassment at work. As a result, consensual office romances, including consensual sex, flirtatious banter with a co-worker, or even the breakup of a consensual relationship, are not considered examples of workplace sexual harassment. One notable exception would be if a consensual relationship escalated to illegal behavior, such as a former romantic partner who resorted to stalking and intimidation after a breakup.

    Some employers create policies to prohibit workplace romances in an effort to help discourage problematic behavior — so even a consensual relationship (while not illegal) could jeopardize your employment, if it is not properly reported to your employer.

  • 4. When Sexual Harassment is Criminal Behavior.

    Workplace harassment is a serious situation that can have devastating consequences for its victims. A claim of harassment would be pursued in a civil lawsuit, which can also include claims of discrimination on the basis of race, age, gender, disability, national origin and other protected classes. In situations of rape and assault, the case could also be pursued with a concurrent criminal case, though we understand that reporting to law enforcement is its own separate consideration for each victim to consider individually.

  • 5. Steps to Take to Report Your Potential Claim.

    It is crucial for victims of workplace sexual harassment to seek help. Our legal team is frequently asked: Who do I contact about workplace sexual harassment in North Carolina or South Carolina? Where do I report it?

    Follow the guidelines for reporting concerns to Human Resources as provided in your Employment Handbook, if one was provided. If the procedure is unclear and you feel comfortable speaking with your supervisor, union leader, or another manager or department leader, bring your concerns to their attention. You have the right to consult with an attorney at ANY time during the course of reporting your experience, particularly if the process is unclear and/or if you fear retaliation as a result of submitting a report or complaint.

    Please also note there is a statute of limitations, or a time limit, in which you can file a legal charge of harassment. In North Carolina and South Carolina, the timeline is typically 180 days (approximately six months) from the date of the last incident.

Herrmann & Murphy is a Workplace Sexual Harassment Law Firm That Will Fight For You

The effects of workplace sexual harassment are harmful for company culture and, most importantly, for the victims recovering from trauma. Navigating the next step is a journey that demands compassion and understanding, as well as the support of seasoned legal experts. With offices in North Carolina and South Carolina, the law firm of Herrmann & Murphy provides experienced legal representation in cases of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

Workplace sexual harassment IS against the law in North Carolina and South Carolina. If you have been suffering in silence, your voice deserves to be heard. Lawyers Sean Herrmann and Kevin Murphy are committed to achieving justice for their clients — with a track record of success. See our results from workplace sexual harassment lawsuit settlements and other notable employment law cases.

Contact our legal team to discuss the details of your situation. Submit an intake form online, or schedule an appointment at one of our two locations: