Legal Protections

Lesson 1: Topic 7 of 9

In the 1986 landmark case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include (and therefore outlaw nationwide) sexual harassment on the job. Research conducted over the next several decades following that decision has determined that:

  • Sexual assault can be a single event, whereas sexual harassment is seen as the sum of a range of unwanted sexual attention over a given period of time. 

  • For various reasons ― including shame, fear of not being believed, fear of retaliation, or a feeling of resignation that nothing would be done anyway ― victims of both sexual assault and sexual harasment are frequently reluctant to speak about it or press charges. 

  • Harassment and violence are interconnected; when one is tolerated, it tends to lead to the other. Lewd or suggestive jokes and innuendo, if left unaddressed, almost inevitably escalates to unwanted touch, demands for sexual favors, sometimes even rape. 
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Employers have been held liable for sexual assault/sexual harassment inflicted by supervisors and managers even if the employer had no knowledge of such conduct, based on the presumption that they should have been aware of the risk and attempted to prevent it. So be certain that sexual harassment and violence are addressed in your company’s policies and included as part of employee training. Your motivations ought to be twofold: liability, as well as truly caring about staff, and working to create an atmosphere of protection and prevention. Everyone needs to know that unwanted sexual advances are taken seriously in this workplace. 

Defining and categorizing workplace violence into distinct groups is rarely helpful during attacks. It is, however, a valuable tool to understand and respond to incidents in the aftermath, thus hopefully preventing them from happening again. Because each of the four types can be considered distinct from the others, there are different techniques and controls which can be put in place to prevent or at least mitigate the harm that may happen. These will be discussed later.