What is the line between an uncomfortable situation at work and sexual harassment at work?

An employee who believes he or she is the victim of workplace sexual harassment must subjectively perceive the harassment as sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment, and the subjective perception must be objectively reasonable. This means that a judge or jury will listen to your story, view it from the perspective of a reasonable person in your position, and take into consideration all the circumstances to decide whether a hostile work environment existed.

Florida Law Gives Guidance

In a 2010 Florida case, Grogan v. Heritage NH, the court found that a business office manager who believed she had been a victim of workplace sexual harassment actually did not have a claim because a “reasonable person” in her position would not have considered the supervisor’s conduct so severe or abusive that it would interfere with her employment. The business office manager had accused her supervisor of following her to and from work. She believed her supervisor wanted a romantic relationship and that he made excuses to be near her and to call her at home. The supervisor gave her a good evaluation that helped her obtain a promotion with better pay. But when she received from a higher authority a disciplinary action report for being loud and disrespectful at a staff meeting, she asked the supervisor about applying for another position, and the supervisor helped her update her resume. The supervisor then arranged an interview for the position she wanted to leave. When she found out, her supervisor went to her house and waited in the parking lot for her. They spoke in her back patio where the supervisor apologized for setting up an interview. The next day, the supervisor sent her flowers with a note signed by the company saying, “I’m sorry…I still want you around as B.O.M. for a long time.” The business office manager was terminated after she lodged a complaint with human resources and after an investigation that showed she was upset because of her disciplinary issues. Human resources had concluded that her sexual harassment complaints against her supervisor had been malicious.

The business office manager in this Florida case failed to establish what is called a “prima facie” case of sexual harassment and retaliation. The Court found that the supervisor never made any sexual advances, or in any way obstructed her ability to perform her job.

We Can Help

Perhaps you are in a situation at work with a supervisor or co-worker that makes you feel uncomfortable. You should speak with human resources about the situation to attempt to correct it. Either way, you should feel free to discuss your situation with an attorney to make sense of whether there is a claim for sexual harassment. We are here for guidance.