The #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on victims of sexual harassment and the suffering that they endure as a result of the misconduct. Many of the headlines have focused on how the careers of these victims were affected by the harassment, however this is not the only way that victims suffer. Sexual harassment victims often experience a great deal of emotional distress, too. Can they be compensated for their emotional pain? Here’s what you need to know:
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature. Sometimes, this is a request for a sexual favor or a physical assault, while other times it is an offensive sexual joke or comment.
The law categorizes sexual harassment as either quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment. The former refers to situations where someone offers something of value in exchange for a sexual favor. For example, a supervisor may make a quid pro quo offer if he offers a promotion to a woman in exchange for sex. A hostile work environment is created when the sexual harassment becomes so severe or frequent that it affects someone’s ability to perform their job duties. Whereas the inappropriate behavior only needs to happen once to be considered quid pro quo harassment, it needs to happen repeatedly to create a hostile work environment.
Most people think that harassment can only occur between a male supervisor and a female employee, but that’s not the case. Both males and females can be victims of sexual harassment. Harassers are often supervisors, but they can also be co-workers, clients, or third parties. In addition, anyone who has been affected by sexual harassment can file a claim against their employee. You do not need to be the person who is being harassed to take legal action against an employer.
How Sexual Harassment Affects Victims Emotionally
Sexual harassment can severely affect a victim’s mental health. Many victims of sexual harassment start to blame themselves for what happened and question why they weren’t able to stop it. These feelings of self-doubt can eventually evolve into depression, which can last for years after the incident occurred. Self-doubt can also affect the victim’s self-esteem. As self-confidence starts to decline, the victim may experience suicidal thoughts that stem from the harassment.
Studies have also found that victims of sexual harassment can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. Victims with PTSD often have flashbacks or nightmares of what happened and go out of their way to avoid people or places that remind them of their harasser.
Victims can also suffer from anxiety after being sexually harassed. Victims who remain in the work environment where the harassment occurred can experience extreme anxiety about going to work on a daily basis. Even if victims leave the hostile work environment, they can still experience anxiety in certain situations. Sometimes, the anxiety is so severe that it can affect the victim’s ability to sleep at night.
Every situation is unique, so there’s no way to predict how long sexual harassment will continue to affect a victim’s mental health. However, some studies have found that victims can be affected for as long as a decade after the harassment first occurred.
Recovering Compensation For Emotional Distress
It’s clear that people who are sexually harassed can experience a significant amount of emotional distress, and they deserve to be compensated for this agony. Fortunately, the law allows sexual harassment victims to recover compensation for their emotional distress.
Federal law places a limit on the amount of compensatory damages that a victim of harassment is able to recover. Compensatory damages refer to compensation awarded to victims for their out-of-pocket expenses and emotional harm. The limit on these damages varies depending on the size of the employer:
- A cap of $50,000 for employers with 15-100 employees
- A cap of $100,000 for employers with 101-200 employees
- A cap of $200,000 for employers with 201-500 employees
- A cap of $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees
For example, let’s say you are filing a lawsuit against your employer, who has a total of 20 employees. If the court rules in your favor, the maximum amount of compensatory damages that you will be able to recover is $50,000 according to federal law.
However, the laws in California do not limit the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a sexual harassment victim. This means if the lawsuit is filed in the state of California, sexual harassment victims may not be restricted to the compensation limits mentioned above. Instead, they will be able to recover what the court believes they are owed for their emotional distress.
Other Forms of Compensation Awarded to Sexual Harassment Victims
Sexual harassment victims can also recover compensation for their attorney’s fees and court costs if the case ends up in court. Some victims will also be able to recover back pay or front pay if the sexual harassment affected their ability to work in the past or in the future. Basically, the goal is to ensure the victim is in the same financial position they would have been in if the harassment had never happened.
Punitive damages can also be awarded to the victim if the court finds that the employer acted with extreme recklessness or malice. For example, these damages may be awarded if an employer let someone be sexually assaulted numerous times without taking action to protect them even though they knew what was happening. These damages are used to punish the employer and deter others from making the same mistakes in the future.
If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, seek legal representation from an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. The employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates will fight tirelessly to protect your rights and recover the compensation that you deserve. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.