Events in the workplace that make an employee uncomfortable should not be disregarded. They could often fall into a category of discrimination and could be acted upon. If an employer or supervisor is making unwanted advances or giving an employee inappropriate attention, this could constitute sexual harassment.
A recent Minnesota case addresses the issue of sexual harassment from a supervisor and whether actual touching is required to support the filing of a suit. According to this case, a female Ph.D. student took on a university research job at a Minnesota University. Since her focus was on birds of prey, the position included various trips to observe birds; many of them were to Alaska with her supervisor.
The details of the claim reports that while on a trip to a remote area of Alaska her supervisor asked the research student employee about her dating life and then suggested that they be more than just research partners. Before their second trip to the wilderness, the supervisor suggested that they only bring one tent instead of two tents for this trip. Furthermore, it was stated that he also told her that she must make the first romantic move since he was her supervisor.
This resulted in a complaint about harassment to the university. While the supervisor admitted to the university that he has flirted with her and hoped they would be more than just friends and research partners, he claimed that he did not touch her or harm her in any way.
The research student filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, and while the supervisor claimed that since he did not touch her there were no grounds for an action, the court ruled that she could move forward with her sexual harassment claim even though there were no touching or blatant sexualized comments.
Taking the steps to act on the belief of sexual harassment or employment discrimination is often challenging for an employee, but they should understand that this is an actionable cause. Speaking with someone and obtaining legal guidance could help them address the hostile work environment. Furthermore, it could help offset any damages caused by the incident and even punish the employer for their actions.
Source: Business Management Daily, "No touching required to support lawsuit alleging supervisor harassment," Dec. 4, 2014