Labor Laws About Hostile Work Environments in South Carolina

By Samantha Kemp

In addition to complying with federal laws that prohibit certain forms of employment harassment, South Carolina employers also must comply with the state's laws on hostile work environments. A court can find that a hostile work environment existed if a reasonable person would not have been able to endure the harassing conduct. Failing to comply with anti-harassment laws can result in the employer being forced to cooperate in an investigation against it, as well as facing civil liability.

Legal Standard

South Carolina law prohibits harassment that is so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. This excludes simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not serious. The Fourth Circuit held in the 2011 case of Okoli v. City of Baltimore that some of the incidents of which the plaintiff alleged, in and of themselves, could have been actionable. These incidents included:

  • fondling
  • kissing
  • propositioning
  • describing sexual activities
  • asking intimate questions

Additionally, the harassment must be pervasive and long lasting. The harassment must be based on the plaintiff's race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age or disability to be actionable. For sexual harassment claims based on a hostile work environment, plaintiffs have an actionable claim even if they are homosexual or bisexual. According to the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, sexual harassment is not based on the victim and perpetrator being different sexes. Additionally, the commission has interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the same as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by finding that discrimination of transgender employees is unlawful discrimination because of sex.

The perpetrator may be the victim's supervisor, another supervisor, a co-worker or someone outside the business such as a contractor or customer.

Governmental Agencies

The South Carolina state legislature has empowered its Human Affairs Commission to investigate claims regarding discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, age, sex, national origin or disability, including harassment claims on this basis. Affected employees complete the agency's form to initiate the claims process. To file a federal complaint in the state of South Carolina, affected employees can contact the Greenville field office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This governmental entity is responsible for enforcing claims brought under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which South Carolina employers with 15 or more employees must comply with.

Employer Liability

If a supervisor's harassment is found to result in a hostile work environment, the employer can only escape liability by showing that it attempted to correct the harassing behavior and the employee failed to take advantage of the corrective action that the employer provided. If someone other than a supervisor was responsible for the hostile environment, the employer is legally liable if it knew or should have known about the harassment but failed to take prompt corrective action.

If the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission finds that the employer illegally permitted a hostile work environment, it can be forced to hire, reinstate or upgrade affected employees and potentially remit back pay.

About the Author

Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.

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