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What is sexual harassment at work under Florida law?

Despite a number of well-publicized sexual harassment cases in recent years and despite efforts by employers to publish policies and provide training to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, sexual harassment, unfortunately, remains a problem in today’s workplace. Many employees who suffer in a sexually hostile work environment feel embarrassed or intimidated and are unwilling to object to the conduct of an offensive co-worker or supervisor.

Federal law and Florida law prohibit sexual harassment in two forms: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

This form of sexual harassment usually involves a request for sexual favors in exchange for continued employment, a promotion, increased pay or other employment benefit. The victim of this form of harassment may suffer adverse actions, including failure to promote, reduction in pay or benefits, demotion or termination as a result of refusing to agree to the sexual advances of the supervisor or co-worker.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

This form of sexual harassment involves severe or pervasive use of unwelcome and offensive language, sexual images or physical touching that a reasonable person would find to be objectionable. Not every sexual innuendo, joke or act will rise to the level of legally prohibited sexual harassment. However, a substantial number of inappropriate comments or offensive acts can give rise to a sexual harassment claim. Where the hostile environment is being created by co-workers, as opposed to supervisors or managers, and where no other adverse action has occurred (such as reduction on pay, demotion or termination), the employee may be required to follow the employer’s policies by reporting the harassment to the designated manager or Human Resources representative and allowing the employer a reasonable opportunity to investigate the matter and remedy the situation.

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