Sexual Harassment at Work: Charges, Penalties & Defense

Sexual Harassment at Work - gavel

Is sexual harassment in the workplace a crime?

Fox News host, Eric Bolling, got a double whammy in August 2017. First, he was suspended from his job for allegedly sending texts of male genitalia to three female colleagues.

Then, a regular guest on the show, Occidental College associate professor Caroline Heldman, posted on Facebook that she’d been the victim of his sexually charged references on the air.

Professor Heldman said that he’d made several personal advances which were disturbing to her and her family. In addition to this, she’d heard from other female colleagues who had experienced the same type of behavior.

Sexual Harassment and the Law

Bottom line?

Sexual harassment is illegal. Whether or not it can be prosecuted as a crime depends upon whether the behavior exhibited by the harasser can be classified as another type of crime.

It may be that the best way to address such behavior is through a civil lawsuit – as in the case of Professor Heldman.

But how about when workplace sexual harassment becomes a crime?

Sexual harassment is defined as a type of gender discrimination. It’s prohibited under Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act. There’s no doubt that rape is a form of sexual harassment. It’s discrimination of a more serious kind than sending unwanted nude pictures or making inappropriate remarks.

A woman who has been the victim of workplace rape may not have questions about whether it was discriminatory or illegal. However, what about other types of behavior? What could happen to a man – or woman – whose sexually charged behavior falls short of rape?

Forcible Touching

Under Michigan law, forcible touching of someone’s intimate body parts, including the inner thigh, under coercion or threat of force could be a second-degree felony punishable by fifteen years prison and mandatory inclusion on the sex offender registry.

This, of course, depends on the severity of the criminal sexual conduct. The charge and penalty will be enhanced if the perpetrator is in a position of authority over the victim.

Assault or Menacing

Even if the harassment in question is not sexual in nature, it could still be a crime if it involves physical violence or threat of physical violence. Some illegal workplace behavior could be prosecuted under anti-stalking laws, which are meant to address behavior such as showing up unannounced, physically following someone or repeatedly sending unwanted messages via text or the internet.

Unlawful Imprisonment

This doesn’t sound like it applies to a workplace. Isn’t that kidnapping?

Actually, physical restraint can fall under the law against unlawful imprisonment. Physical restraint can be just how it sounds or it can be something like intentionally restricting the liberty of someone else by confining them or by moving them from place to place.

A harasser may commit a crime if he or she intimidates a victim into staying in one location in order to subject them to unwanted and offensive conduct.


There’s no doubt that workplace sexual harassment is illegal. Discriminatory behavior may end up costing a harasser his or her job and incurring a lawsuit. In addition, it could also bring about criminal charges.

If you find yourself facing criminal charges related to workplace sexual harassment, it’s important not to take it lightly. You need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Call my office today.

Call today