Unlawful touching in the workplace is common and can range from a shoulder pat to sexual assault. Despite some advances in the prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace, unwelcome grabbing or touching continues to be a common and traumatic type of workplace harassment. It can be intimidating, demoralizing, and can make an employee fearful of returning to work.
Some forms of unwanted touch constitute sexual harassment and are illegal under both Washington state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Employees who have experienced unlawful touching may have a right to file a legal claim against their employer. If you have experienced unlawful touching in the workplace, you need an experienced employment lawyer on your side. Attorney Kristi Favard of Sapphire Legal, PLLC has successfully represented Washington employees in sexual harassment claims involving unwanted touch. Contact her today to learn how she can protect your rights.
When Is Unwelcome Touching Considered Sexual Harassment?
Employees have a right to work free from sexual harassment, which includes unwelcome physical touch. Local, state, and federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace make many forms of unwelcome touch illegal.
Distinguishing between lawful and unlawful touching can be challenging. One employee could perceive a type of physical touch as a friendly expression of affection while another employee could perceive it as sexual harassment. Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace helps to understand when unwelcome touching is unlawful. There are two main types of sexual harassment – quid pro quo sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a demand for sexual touching or sexual favors in return for some type of employment benefit. Unlawful touch can create a hostile work environment.
When unwelcome contact is pervasive or severe enough to alter the work environment, the contact is illegal because it creates a hostile work environment. Notably, the contact does not necessarily need to be sexual to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. When hugs, pats, and other physical gestures make an employee feel uncomfortable, they can still be considered unlawful even if they are not explicitly sexual.
Examples of Unlawful Touching in the Workplace
Certain types of physical contact in the workplace are customary, such as an occasional pat on the back or a handshake. Unwelcome touching typically rises to the level of sexual harassment when the touch is unwelcome, makes the victim feel uncomfortable, or is inappropriate or violent. Many different types of unwelcome touching in the workplace are considered sexual harassment. When unwelcome touching creates an abusive, intimidating, or hostile work environment, the victim can file a legal claim against his or her employer. Examples of unlawful touching in the workplace include the following:
- Physical assaults
- Pinching body parts
- Slapping body parts
- Patting or petting another person
- Kissing on the cheek, lips, or anywhere else
- Any unwanted contact of a sexual nature
- Coerced sexual activity
- Attempted rape or rape
- Blocking a person’s movement
- Rubbing, grinding, or brushing another person’s body
- Hugging without asking permission
- Caressing a body part in a sexual way
- Rubbing genitals on another person
Unwelcome Physical Contact Can Escalate Into Sexual Harassment
Employees often assume that unwelcome touching is a one-time event and try to put it out of their minds. Unfortunately, those who engage in sexual harassment rarely stop after the first event. Many times, sexual harassers will continue to engage in unwanted sexual contact, and the contact may become more severe each time. Sexual harassment often begins as seemingly benign physical contact but escalates into serious sexual abuse. Therefore, it is important to put an end to the behavior as soon as it begins.
What to Do After Experiencing Unlawful Touching at Work
If you have experienced unwelcome sexual contact, it is important that that you tell the person to stop. You should also consult with an attorney and discuss reporting the behavior to your supervisor or human resources. Sometimes, reporting issues at work can lead to retaliation or make your employer suspicious of you. Therefore, to ensure your complaint is handled properly, we recommend discussing the harassment you are experiencing with an attorney before reporting the issue to your employer. If you have already reported the behavior to your employer, that is okay too. An employment attorney can make sure your complaint is properly handled. It is also wise to become familiar with your company’s anti-harassment policies.
Bringing a Sexual Harassment Claim for Unwelcome Touching
Many employees are afraid that if they speak up for themselves, they will lose their job, or the situation will worsen. Some victims assume that because they did not actively say no to the touching, they do not have a right to file a legal claim. However, you do not have to explicitly tell someone no or directly tell your harasser to stop the unwelcome touching to file a sexual harassment claim. As long as the contact is unwanted and rises to the level of harassment, you can still bring a claim against your employer. That said, we recommend that you tell the person to stop touching you if you are comfortable doing so.
Contact a Washington Unlawful Contact Lawyer Today
When your employer fails to protect you from unwelcome physical touch, it is essential that you consult with an attorney to advise you on how to handle the situation. Attorney Kristi Favard of Sapphire Legal, PLLC has extensive experience advocating for sexual harassment victims’ rights. Contact her legal team today to schedule an appointment.