The attention of the nation has been riveted in recent months to salacious allegations of sexual harassment by politicians, entertainment industry executives, and network news anchors, with some saying the worst is yet to come. Churches are not immune from incidents of sexual harassment, but few church leaders know what it is or how to reduce the risk.
This article will assist church leaders in understanding the relevance of sexual harassment to church staff, by focusing on the following issues:
- What is sexual harassment?
- How common is it?
- Employer liability for sexual harassment committed by employees and nonemployees.
- The importance of a sexual harassment policy.
- Examples illustrating sexual harassment.
- Case studies addressing sexual harassment in churches.
1. What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of "sex discrimination" prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations define sexual harassment as follows:
(a) Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Sec. 703 of Title VII. 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 unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. 29 CFR 1604.11(a).