Sexual Harassment Outside the Office

Atlanta Lawyers Advising Workers and Companies on Employment Discrimination

Sexual harassment can occur outside the four walls of the office and traditional work hours. Employees are often required or encouraged to spend time together when not on the clock. Outside activities may involve alcohol and a relaxed atmosphere, which can result in workers failing to observe proper boundaries. Employers should have policies and procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment in all job-related contexts, and they should be prepared for complaints that involve behavior outside the workplace. Whether you are an employer or an employee, if you have a legal issue related to sexual harassment, the experienced Atlanta attorneys at Mays & Kerr can help you.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from unlawful discrimination based on sex. Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex-based discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title VII. Before an employee can file suit under Title VII, he or she must file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the harassment. Failing to promptly file the charge will result in the employee’s claim being barred.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex. Federal law recognizes two forms of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. If submission to or rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct forms the basis of an employment decision, it is quid pro quo harassment. This may take the form of an implied or express threat of a negative action, such as termination or demotion, or an implied or express promise of a benefit, such as a promotion or pay raise.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment involves offensive conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive enough to cause workplace conditions to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive. The conduct must be severe or pervasive. Generally, a single act will not be sufficient to create a hostile environment, but if that act is particularly severe, it may be enough.

It is easy to see how conduct that would qualify as quid pro quo harassment could carry over into the workplace even if it occurs outside. If an employee is threatened with termination for rejecting a sexual advance, it does not matter, from the individual’s perspective, whether that threat occurred in the office or elsewhere. The type of offensive comments and conduct that make up a hostile work environment, however, may not necessarily affect the work environment if they do not occur there.

Conduct Outside the Office

Employer-sponsored holiday parties, conferences, client visits, and team-building exercises all take employees outside the office and put them into social settings. While these activities can encourage camaraderie and a stronger relationship among employees, they can also lead to events that are detrimental to the work environment. Alcohol or the lack of the formal office setting may cause some employees to relax inhibitions and boundaries. If offensive conduct occurs in the context of a work-sponsored event, such as a holiday party, it is likely the court will consider it in a harassment claim.

In addition to incidents that occur during a work-sponsored event, courts have also considered incidents occurring in employer-provided hotel rooms, on weekend trips at the invitation of a company executive, and even in bars. Courts have also considered uninvited appearances at the employee’s home and unwanted phone calls to the employee’s personal phone outside work, particularly when those visits or calls were threatening. Often, these incidents occur as part of an ongoing pattern of harassment that also includes conduct that occurs at the workplace. While a single suggestive remark at a happy hour is unlikely to be considered severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, that same remark could contribute to supporting a hostile work environment claim as part of a pattern of harassment.

When the conduct is outside the office, liability may depend on whether the offending employee is in a supervisory position. Courts are generally reluctant to hold an employer liable for harassment or other improper conduct by a non-supervisory employee that occurs outside work or a work-sponsored event, but they may do so under some circumstances.

Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorneys Serving the Atlanta Area

The employment discrimination lawyers at Mays & Kerr are familiar with how Atlanta employees and employers can be affected by sexual harassment not just in the workplace but also outside it. If you are concerned about the possibility of unlawful conduct, we can discuss your options with you. Call us at 1-877-986-5529 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.