Can Sexual Harassment be Punishable by Jail Time?

We see it on the news all the time. More and more women and even men are speaking up against sexual harassment at work. Unfortunately, what is considered sexual harassment in North Carolina isn’t always clear. This lack of clarity comes from there being different meanings for sexual harassment and wrongful sexual behavior under different laws and policies, from the workplace, educational institutions, and our criminal justice system. Our justice system does not have a crime directly corresponding to the term “sexual harassment”, so it may seem that sexual harassment is not a crime. However, some acts that may be considered sexual harassment under your workplace policy can actually correspond to a criminal act under North Carolina’s long list of sex crimes.

If you were accused of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should understand the potential for those accusations to get you in even more serious trouble with the justice system. Contacting an experienced sex crime defense lawyer as soon as possible could help mitigate the possibility of such consequences.

woman looking at her phone while at her desk in a workplace.

Types of Behavior Considered Sexual Harassment

Although there are many different situations that can be considered sexual harassment, the following is a list of some of the most common behaviors that are listed in most lawsuits:

  • Discussing sexual activities
  • Using offensive or crude gestures or language
  • Telling jokes about sex
  • Displaying sexually explicit images
  • Commenting on the appearance of an employee
  • Touching an employee when it isn’t welcome

When is Sexual Harassment Considered a Crime?

Sexual harassment itself isn’t considered criminal in nature, but charges can be filed if sexual contact that isn’t welcome is made. Sexual contact can include touching any of the victim’s sexual organs, anus, breast, buttocks, or groin, or touching another person with one’s own sexual organ, anus, buttocks, breast, or groin. The touching is unlawful regardless of whether the victim is wearing clothing, or if the offender touches the victim directly or uses their clothing.

A sexual harassment charge that involves sexual contact is considered sexual battery, which is considered a Class A1 misdemeanor under North Carolina law. Other crimes may also apply depending on the extent of the sexual contact.

What Will Judges Look for to Raise the Issue to a Crime?

As a general rule, if the incident in question is a single careless remark or a joke that is sexual in nature at a place of employment, it won’t be considered a sex crime. However, if a charge is filed in court, the judge will want to know if any of the following things pertain to the incident.

  • Behavior is Condition of Employment: If an employee has to consent or submit themselves to sexual harassment, either explicitly or implicitly, as a condition of employment, the employee has the right to file a complaint.
  • Employment Decisions are Affected by the Behavior: If an employer approaches an employee asking for sexual favors in exchange for special privileges or benefits, this is a type of sexual harassment. If the employee refuses to comply with the propositions and there are retributions to the employee for saying no, a case may be filed in court.
  • Work Environment Hostility: If the employee that filed the charge can prove that their work environment is hostile, intimidating, or offensive and their employer knew about it but chose to do nothing to stop of the problem, the case may be upheld in court. If the employee wasn’t able to complete their work due to the harassment, whether the harassment was verbal, physical or written in nature, the charge may stand.

Have You Been Accused of Sexual Harassment?

Given the wide-range of actions that could constitute sexual battery and some other sex crimes, we can see how sexual harassment can escalate into our criminal justice system. If you think the consequences of such accusations in the workplace are tough to combat, the justice system can be far more stressful.

That is why if you have been accused of sexual harassment, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal attorney to defend you. The attorneys at Tarlton | Polk have years of experience handling cases just like these. Call us or contact us below for a consultation.

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