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When is an Oklahoma employer responsible for sexual harassment?

Oklahoma residents may be generally aware that there exist laws and regulations that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. What may be less familiar to them, is what constitutes sexual harassment, and when one's employer is legally responsible for such activities. It is important that employees know their rights and when their employer is accountable.

Sexual harassment in Oklahoma is generally defined as unwanted sexual advances that take place as a condition of employment, affect the career opportunities of an employee, his or her ability to perform work or otherwise creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. While this is a fairly standard definition, and some cases may be obvious, there are some legal subtleties that may be involved when the harassment is not being caused by, for example, the owner of the company.

So when is an employer responsible for sexual harassment that is being committed by its employees? The more obvious cases are those in which a supervisor is the harasser. In these cases, the employer is more or less strictly liable. That is, the company is legally accountable whether or not it knew about the supervisor's activities. The case is a little different in other circumstances.

Employers are responsible for sexual harassment by an employee's coworkers if it knew, or should have known, about the harassment and did not take any immediate corrective action. This is also true of the harassing activities of non-employees who are on business premises, such as delivery personnel or customers.

It will not always be immediately apparent whether an employer "should have known" about some sexually harassing activities, or what steps may have been taken by an employer to correct the situation. This is above and beyond the questions that may be posed with regard to what kinds of activities constitute sexual harassment in the first place.

If you believe you have been the victim of such illegal activity or other sex discrimination, you may wish to consult a legal professional with experience in representing employees. Navigating the legal process can be harrowing, especially in sexual harassment cases where embarrassing situations may have to be dredged up to prove the conduct involved. It may help to have an advocate on your side.

Source: Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, "335:15-3-10. Sexual harassment related to employment," accessed on Nov. 19, 2014

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