Visual sexual harassment includes any sexual harassment that an employee can visually see. Visual sexual harassment can involve any sexually explicit displays. At its core, it abuses an employee’s sight. Federal law and Washington State’s employment laws prohibit visual sexual harassment as a form of a hostile work environment. When employers engage in or permit this type of sexual harassment, they may be liable under federal and state law.
At Sapphire Legal, PLLC, we represent employees throughout the greater Seattle area. Founding attorney Kristi Favard has experience litigating employment law cases in Washington since 2013. If you have experienced visual sexual harassment in Washington, our law firm is here to help. We will represent your rights fiercely and effectively. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.
What Constitutes Visual Sexual Harassment in Washington State?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in Washington state. Sexual harassment includes any unwanted or inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. Another employee or supervisor can engage in sexual harassment through words, gestures, or physical acts.
Visual sexual harassment is a specific type of sexual harassment that includes unwanted sexual visual information. It may involve any obscene leering or gestures, or any kind of sexually explicit imaging, including:
- Graphic calendars
- Pornographic material downloaded to a workplace computer
- Pornographic material shown to an employee on another employee’s cell phone
- Computer “wallpaper” or screensavers with sexually explicit graphics
- Text messages involving sexually explicit material
- Any other offensive visual display
- Obscene gestures
- Offensive office posters
- Offensive photos shown during a work presentation
Visual Harassment Under Washington State Law
Sexual harassment in employment is illegal per Washington state employment laws. Specifically, the Washington State Law Against Discrimination prohibits sex-based discrimination in employment. Sex-based discrimination includes sexual harassment. Washington recognizes two forms of illegal sexual harassment in employment. The first category of sexual harassment creates a “hostile work environment.”
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment in Washington State?
A hostile work environment happens when an employee is the target of unwelcome, sexually suggestive or demeaning actions or content. The following types of visual sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment:
- Pornographic materials
- Offensive gestures
- Intimidating behaviors
- Jokes or pranks involving visual sexually explicit material
Not all visual sexual harassment will meet the requirements of a hostile work environment. In order for it to constitute as a hostile work environment, it must:
- Be directed at the employee because of his or her gender status as a male or female
- Be pervasive or severe
- Affect the conditions of the employee’s work environment
Additionally, the employer must be indirectly or directly responsible for sexual harassment. Or, the employer must provide less favorable conditions and terms of employment to you than your opposite sex co-workers simply because of the employee’s gender status as a male or female.
Not all visual sexual harassment rises to violate Washington’s anti-discrimination laws. The following incidents are not legally actionable sexual harassment:
- Casual, isolated, or trivial incidents of sexual harassment
- Conduct that the employee has invited or made others to believe he or she welcomed
- Sexual harassment that was directed equally toward male and female employees
- Under Washington state law, when the employer is a religious organization
- Conduct by a coworker; the employee may have other grounds for legal action
Who Can Be Held Liable?
Employees who have been subjected to visual sexual harassment can bring legal action against the offender. Under Washington state employment law, employees can bring legal action against the following types of people:
- An employer, manager, or partner who directly participated in the harassment
- The employer, when the employer knew or should have known of the harassment
- Individual supervisors or managers when they engaged in the sexual harassment
- A union or its agents, in some circumstances
- An employment agency
Employees can only bring legal action against employers who knew or should have known of the harassment when the employer failed to take an effective and prompt response to eliminate the sexual harassment.
Filing a Claim in Washington State
When employers engage in sexual harassment, the affected employees have a right to file a lawsuit in Washington state courts. Or, the employee may file a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
Keep in mind that Washington’s anti-sexual harassment laws only apply to employers with eight or more employees. However, if an employer with fewer than eight employees terminated you from your job at least in part because of visual sexual harassment, you may still have a valid legal claim.
Visual sexual harassment can fall into the category of a hostile work environment. Federal employment discrimination laws only apply to employers with at least 15 employees. Washington state’s anti-discrimination law is similar to the federally based Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This federal law bans discrimination based on sex in the workplace.
Just as in state law, under federal law, sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual advances and verbal, visual, and physical conduct of a sexual nature. It must do one of the following to be unlawful:
- Negatively affect an individual’s employment
- Unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work performance, or
- Create an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment
Contact Our Washington Visual Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Sexual harassment can be extremely distressing for Washington state employees. Sexually graphic images do not belong in Washington workplaces. If you’ve faced visual sexual harassment in the greater Seattle area, Sapphire Legal, PLLC, can help. We fight hard for the rights of our employees throughout the entire legal process. Contact our law firm as soon as possible.