Sexual Harassment

What is Sexual Harassment?

These days, #MeToo has faded slightly from the headlines.  However, sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new trend, and it continues today.  As much as ever before, it is still important to understand what constitutes harassment.  Employers must provide a safe working environment for their employees. A safe environment includes the elimination and prevention of sexual harassment. Therefore, training is critical.  Employers are also required to provide a process for employees to file complaints.

The Definition

Teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents are not usually considered sexual harassment.  However, if these harassing actions are continuous, they create a hostile work environment, and you can file a harassment complaint.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome requests for sexual favors, sexual advances, and other instances of physical and verbal sexual conduct of an offensive or hostile nature.  Basically, the victim’s perspective is what determines whether a specific action counts as sexual harassment.  If the victim views it as unwelcome, hostile, or intimidating, it legally counts as harassment.

What are the types?

Physical: Physical sexual harassment includes physical advances, assault, rape, and unwanted advances.  This includes touching a person’s body or clothing, standing too close without consent, hugging, or kissing a person without permission.  Physical harassment—subtle or violent—can be dangerous and threaten the safety and comfort of the victim.

Verbal: Verbal sexual harassment includes whistling and catcalling, making dirty comments or jokes, continuing to ask a person out after they have declined, or gossiping about someone’s sex life.  Some view teasing and jokes as harmless, but unwelcome verbal harassment can lead to an uncomfortable work environment and a hostile workplace.

Nonverbal: Nonverbal sexual harassment includes making suggestive gestures, staring, looking someone up and down, blocking some’s way, winking, or other suggestive facial expressions.  Like other forms, nonverbal harassment can lead to a hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo: Much of the above, physical, verbal, and nonverbal harassment can create hostile workplace claims.  However, there is another type of sexual harassment claim.  This is quid pro quo which occurs when a job benefit is directly tied to an employee submitting to unwelcome sexual advances.  For example, the boss threatens an employee with termination if she will not sleep with him.

Being harassed at work is against the law. Therefore, you have rights as a victim of harassment. We offer a free consultation to determine your situation and how you can proceed. Please call us to discuss your situation.


This blog was prepared by Attorney Paul Kenton.

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