If you are wondering what your rights might be if you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace but not a permanent employee, you have come to the right place. While most federal and state employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, they specifically protect “employees.” The terms “independent contractor” or “temporary employee” are excluded from these provisions. However, the Maryland courts have generally extended these protections to any worker the employer has at least some control over.
In other words, contractors and temporary employees still have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and their employer or agency may be held accountable for sexual harassment.
This article provides an overview of workplace sexual harassment and your rights and remedies as a temporary or contractor employee. Of course, a member of our team is available to answer your questions and discuss your case with you.
What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Workplace sexual harassment is illegal on both the state and federal levels. Under Maryland law, sexual harassment is defined broadly as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Sexual harassment can be any sexual behavior that creates a hostile or intimidating environment or affects a person’s ability to perform their job. Workplace sexual harassment also extends to any situation where the acceptance or rejection of sexual conduct or advances is used as a basis for employment decisions (e.g., if you don’t submit to a sexual advance, you will not be promoted).
Some examples of workplace sexual harassment include:
- Unnecessary touching,
- Unwelcome sexual advances,
- Lewd comments,
- Requests for sexual favors,
- Discriminatory remarks about gender, and
- Crude and demeaning language.
This list is not exhaustive and can include other behavior and conduct with varying degrees of severity.
Maryland Law on Workplace Harassment as a Temporary Employee
An employer could be held legally liable for sexual harassment if the individual responsible for the harassment was supervising, directing, in charge of employment decisions, or evaluating the work of the employee who was harassed. An employer is also liable if their negligence led to the harassment or the continuation of the harassment.
Simply put, employers in Maryland can be held responsible for sexual harassment when they know it is happening and do nothing to stop it. The law now extends to harassment experienced by their independent contractors.
A relatively recent change to Maryland law now allows independent contractors, temporary workers, and employees working for companies with even a single employee to bring sexual harassment claims forward. Notably, the law also extends to claims of harassment based on race, religion, age, disability, and more.
Specifically, the law expanded the definition of “employee” to include an individual working as an independent contractor for an employer. The ramifications of the law are significant and allow a harassed employee to file claims they otherwise could not pursue under federal law.
With this change, as a temporary employee and sexual harassment victim, you may have remedies available. Even if you do not otherwise classify as an employee under Title VII, you still have legal recourse against workplace sexual harassment under Maryland law.
Filing a Lawsuit for Independent Contractor Sexual Harassment Claims
You should reach out to an attorney as soon as you believe you are experiencing workplace sexual harassment. They can advise you of your options and how to document your experiences.
If internal remedies through your employer are proving futile, you may need to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Maryland Commission of Civil Rights (MCCR). If those go nowhere, it is time to consider filing a civil lawsuit for damages.
You must first file a discrimination charge with the government agency before filing a lawsuit. As an independent contractor in Maryland, this will likely be with the MCCR since you generally do not have a remedy available under the EEOC. The timeline for filing the lawsuit used to be two years, but recent changes to the law have now expanded that time to three years from the latest incident of harassment.
Type of Claims
Generally speaking, sexual harassment cases in Maryland are divided into quid pro quo claims and hostile work environment claims.
Quid Pro Quo Claims
Quid pro quo claims arise when your employment conditions are contingent on your submission to sexual advances.
To prove quid pro quo claims, you must prove sexual harassment was present in the workplace, you were a victim of it, and it directly affected tangible aspects of your job, including compensation, privileges, or conditions or terms of employment. Lastly, you must prove the employer knew about the harassment and did nothing to remedy it.
Hostile Work Environment Claims
Hostile work environment claims arise when unwanted sexual behavior at work negatively affects a person’s working conditions.
To prove a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim, the victim must show that:
- Sexual harassment was present in the workplace, and
- The conduct at issue created a working environment that a reasonable person would perceive as abusive or hostile.
This departs from the previous standard, which required a victim to show severe and pervasive harassment occurred. The claimant must prove the employer knew about the harassment and did not take remedial action.
The departure from previous law has paved the way for victims who otherwise would have been barred from recovery to pursue their claims.
How We Can Help
While there is no requirement that you have an attorney, it is always recommended that you hire one before proceeding with a sexual harassment claim. These claims can be complex and challenging, often involving corporations, large employers, and state and federal agencies. These claims can also be tough to prove and, without a thorough investigation and extensive evidence, can turn into “he said, she said” accusations.
Our experienced Maryland sexual harassment lawyers can help you build your case by:
- Investigating and gathering necessary documentation that the employer may be refusing to provide,
- Interviewing witnesses and other potential victims, and
- Preparing your legal strategy.
At Smithey Law, our team is comprised of award-winning employment attorneys skilled and knowledgeable in workplace harassment. If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment as a contractor, contact us today to schedule a consultation.