Your job is supposed to be a place that you can go without any fear of harm. Far too often, however, employees find themselves facing sexual abuse at the hands of someone at their job. If you are the victim of sexual abuse by a coworker, supervisor, client, customer, or other person you encounter at work, it's important to know that you can take legal recourse against those who are responsible for the trauma that you suffered.
At The Brod Injury Law Firm, we understand it can be hard to speak up about the sexual abuse. We are dedicated to providing the representation employees deserve so they can seek justice for the workplace abuse they never should have suffered.
Sexual Abuse v. Sexual Harassment in Pennsylvania
Sexual harassment generally occurs in a workplace or other professional setting. This form of harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature."
Examples of sexual harassment can include:
- Sexual coercion, where a victim is made to engage in sexual activity because of a threat of being fired;
- Unwanted sexual advances, like touching and kissing; and
- Unwanted physical contact, like sexual assault or rape.
In order to rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment, these actions must be "so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment." A boss, supervisor, or co-worker can be guilty of sexual harassment, as well as non-employee individuals, like a client or a customer.
Sexual abuse--otherwise known as molestation--is also categorized as unwelcome sexual behavior but generally rises beyond the level of verbal harassment to include undesired physical advances, like forcing a victim to touch the abuser in a sexual way or engage in non-consensual sexual activity. Those in the workplace are especially prone to sexual abuse due to the position of authority that abusers often maintain over the victim. Abusers are often bosses, supervisors, or another position that allows them to wield power and impact a victim's job security.
Effects of Workplace Sexual Abuse on Survivors
For victims of sexual abuse in the workplace, the mental and physical effects of the abuse are often long-lasting. According to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), individuals who suffer sexual abuse at work can face long-term health consequences. According to JAMA's study, women who experienced sexual abuse in the workplace were far more likely to suffer from mental and physical issues.
People who have suffered sexual abuse are far more likely to suffer from depression than those who have never suffered sexual abuse in the workplace. Depression can manifest itself in the following forms:
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness;
- Irritability and negativity;
- Loss of interest in doing things that once made the victim happy;
- Overeating or loss of appetite;
- Persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness; and
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts of suicide.
Victims of workplace sexual abuse often blame themselves for the trauma that they suffered, thinking that there could have been some way to prevent the abuse. This self-blame can further exacerbate the depression that a victim of sexual abuse can face.
Those who have suffered sexual abuse in the workplace often face a higher chance of developing anxiety disorders. Victims of sexual abuse can face symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Inability to stop worrying;
- Feelings of irritability or agitation;
- Racing pulse;
- Shakiness and sweaty palms;
- Fatigue; and
- Insomnia or trouble staying asleep.
Who Can be Held Liable for Workplace Sexual Abuse?
In cases of workplace sexual abuse, the person who abused you may not be the only person who can be found liable--your employer may also have liability for the trauma you faced.
After suffering sexual abuse by someone in the workplace, you may be able to hold your abuser personally liable for the suffering you endured at his or her hands. If found guilty, your abuser could be forced to compensate you for the trauma you experienced.
If you suffer sexual abuse at the hands of someone at work, your abuser may not be the only person to be held liable--your company can also be liable for the trauma that you suffered.
Employees have a right to a safe environment at work. As such, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for its employees and if the employer fails to do so, it can be held liable if you suffer sexual abuse at the workplace. Due to the legal theory of respondeat superior--holding an employer responsible for actions of its employees--your employer can be held liable for the trauma that you experience at the hands of someone your employer hired. This is especially true if your abuser had a prior history of abuse, but your employer hired the person anyway.
Employer Liability in Pennsylvania
As mentioned above, employers can be sued for your sexual abuse or harassment at work. But a claim or lawsuit against the employer will only succeed if:
- the employer is made aware of the sexual abuse, and
- the employer does not take action to address the matter.
So, if an employer is not engaging in the activity and not aware that it is happening, it cannot be held liable.
Legal Remedies for Workplace Sexual Abuse
If you are a victim of sexual abuse in the workplace, there are steps that you can take to seek the justice you deserve for the trauma you faced. Firstly, the employee who abused you can be held criminally liable for his or her actions. In addition, you may be able to bring a civil lawsuit against the person who abused you to recover financial compensation--also known as "damages"--for your abuse.
Damages that can be recovered in workplace sexual abuse cases include compensation for:
- Medical bills that you incurred after your abuse, including hospital bills, counseling appointments, and costs of prescription medication to treat the emotional anxiety you faced;
- Emotional effects of the trauma that you suffered, such as depression, anxiety, and loss of sleep; and
- Physical trauma suffered during your abuse.
In some cases, your abuser may also be forced to pay additional compensation known as "punitive damages." This form of damages is not meant to compensate you for the trauma that you suffered during and after your abuse; rather, punitive damages are meant to punish the individual who sexually abused you and serve as a warning for what can happen to people who choose to commit sexual abuse in the future.
Are You a Victim of Workplace Sexual Abuse? We Can Help
First, if you are an employee who suffered sexual abuse by someone you work with in the state of Pennsylvania, you should first report it to the police. Second, report it to your employer. Third, make sure you get any medical assistance you may need, depending on the abuse and your physical and mental state.
But also know, you are not alone and do not have to face the aftermath of your abuse alone. The legal team at the Brod Injury Law Firm is dedicated to helping survivors of sexual abuse seek the justice they deserve for the trauma they never should have suffered. We are proud to have established a reputation of compassion and commitment to those that we help in Pennsylvania. To speak with Gary Brod about your experience and to take the next steps toward seeking justice for your abuse, fill out an online case evaluation form or call him at 1-888-435-7946 today.