As one writer covering legal stories put it: Almost every law office has received calls from people who want to file a sexual harassment or workplace harassment suit because they feel they work in a hostile work environment. Our firm certainly understands the frustrations that employees have when it comes to workplaces, but we also understand that sexual harassment is fairly well defined under both federal and state laws. A single instance of a ribald joke or personal tension between two people does not a sexual harassment case make.
The challenge, for either side, during a sexual harassment case, is with evidence. One side has to prove that sexual harassment occurred; the other side might have to defend against allegations and prove how certain actions were not harassment.
There are basically two major types of sexual harassment cases. The first, known as quid pro quo, involves someone in the workplace demanding sexual favors in return for something of value. That something could be a raise, a promotion or simply remaining quiet about something that could cause trouble for another person in the workplace. With such cases, only a single instance has to be proven for the case to possibility be decided against the defendant.
In other cases, the plaintiff claims to experience a hostile work environment. Here, the plaintiff typically has to prove that a consistently hostile environment existed and that it caused damage to his or her ability to work. Here is where the single inappropriate joke might not make a big impact -- though employers should always counsel staff to avoid such jokes and behavior.
Sexual harassment cases, even if they are dismissed, can be bad for a company's brand and image. Working with an attorney to handle such cases before they become larger than necessary can help to protect the employer and its brand.
Source: CNN, "What makes sex harassment cases tough to win," Danny Cevallos, accessed Feb. 19, 2016