Written by attorney Vincent Peter White

Penalties for Sexual Harassment

Employers, rather than individuals, are liable for sexual harassment in the workplace. That means if an employer is found guilty of neglecting to stop or prevent sexual harassment, the employer may face court-ordered penalties. In most cases, accused employees are not legally liable. However, they may face penalties from their employer.

Employer Penalties for Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment as a form of illegal sex discrimination. If an employer is found guilty of failing to stop sexual harassment, the law permits the following penalties:

  • Lost wages. Payments to cover wages and benefits a victim would have earned from the date of the harassment to the date of the trial or settlement.

  • Future lost wages. Payments to cover wages and benefits a victim would have earned if there had never been a sexual harassment charge.

  • Compensatory damages. Payments for emotional pain and anguish.

  • Punitive damages. Payments to punish the employer.

  • Attorney costs and court fees.

  • Reinstatement or promotion for victim.

  • Both public and private employers with at least 15 employees must uphold federal law.

Employee Penalties for Sexual Harassment

Title VII requires employers to stop or prevent sexual harassment from continuing to occur. If an employee admits to sexual harassment or is found during an investigation to have engaged in sexual harassment, an employer may take disciplinary action against the employee. Most employers try to make the punishment proportionate to the seriousness of the offensive behavior.

Penalties against a harasser may include:

  • Warning or reprimand

  • Transfer or demotion

  • Salary reduction

  • Suspension or termination

  • Training or counseling

  • Monitoring

Additional Resources:

Workplace Fairness: Sexual Harassment - Legal Rights

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment

Related Legal Guides:

Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual Harassment Termination

Online Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment Charges

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