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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of illegal workplace discrimination which can have negative impacts on workplace productivity, business profitability, and most especially on the real lives of employees and their families.

Both Vermont law and federal law prohibit discrimination or harassment on the basis of a person’s sex. Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been interpreted to include sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act includes Vermont’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Law.

Who has to follow Vermont’s Sexual Harassment Prevention law?

All Vermont employers, labor unions, and employment agencies who have at least one employee must follow the Vermont Sexual Harassment Prevention Law. Also, anyone who “engages a person to perform work or services” now has an obligation to “ensure a working relationship with that person that is free from sexual harassment.” This provision, added in 2018, was intended to ensure that people working with independent workers, contractors, interns, volunteers, and other service providers do not sexually harass, or permit sexual harassment against, those individuals.

Who does the law protect?

The law protects just about anyone who works for anyone else. An individual is protected by the Vermont Sexual Harassment Prevention Law even if they are the only worker at a business or organization, or if they are an independent contractor, an intern, temporary employee, volunteer, or service provider.

Any person of any gender can experience unlawful sexual harassment, even someone who is not the target of harassing behavior.

Understanding sexual harassment

Vermont’s law defines sexual harassment in the same way as federal law does, applying the definition written by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.. This definition reads, “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” See 21 V.S.A. section 495(d)(13).

Unlawful sexual harassment can take one of two forms - either quid pro quo harassment, or a hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employment decision is based on someone’s willingness to endure sexual conduct, advances, or requests for sexual favors. The Latin term “quid pro quo” literally mean “this for that.” A single instance of quid pro quo sexual harassment is illegal.

A hostile work environment is created when work-related harassment becomes so “severe or pervasive” that a person of any gender identity or sexual orientation:

  • Has to endure come-ons, unwelcomed sexual remarks, or sex-based behavior as part of their job, or
  • Is targeted with harassing behavior because of their sex, or based on conforming or not conforming to sex-based stereotypes, or
  • Feels intimidated, offended, scared, unsafe, or demeaned on the basis of their sex or based on sex-based stereotypes.

A hostile work environment is usually a situation that develops over time, after frequent or repeated instances of sexual or sex-based conduct occur, and they prevent someone from being able to do their job. However, a single serious incident, such as workplace sexual assault, can be so “severe or pervasive” as to create an unlawful hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment is not about sex - it is about power in the workplace.

Any person of any gender can experience unlawful sexual harassment, even someone who is not the target of harassing behavior. Sexual harassment can be about sexual attraction, but it doesn’t have to be. It includes any harassment that is based on sex or based on someone’s conformance or non-conformance with sex-based stereotypes. Sexual harassment can occur between members of the same sex and not be related to sexual interest or attraction.

What is not sexual harassment?

The legal requirements for sexual harassment are probably not met when:

-the conduct is not actually unwelcomed

-the conduct is not based on sex or sex-related stereotypes, or

-the employer takes prompt and reasonable steps that actually stop harassing behavior.

Sexual Harassment Resources for Workers

If you believe you may be a victim of workplace harassment or discrimination on the basis of any legally protected category or categories,  find more information:

Where and how to report a complaint