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5 Examples of Sexual Harassment at Work

What Is Sexual Harassment?

It is illegal to harass an employee or job applicant because of that person's sex. Unlawful sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is illegal when it is severe or pervasive (frequent) such that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as a termination or demotion).

It's important to understand that sexual harassment isn't limited to overtly sexual behaviors but can include offensive comments about a person's sex. It can also include more subtle actions that are unwelcome and cause discomfort or distress to the recipient. This may include inappropriate comments, jokes, gestures, invasion of personal space, and unwelcome attention or advances. 

Being aware of the examples of sexual harassment below can help you to identify sexual harassment in the workplace.

1: Unwanted Sexual Comments, Jokes, or Gestures.

One of the signs of sexual harassment is the use of inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication. This can include sexual comments, jokes, innuendos, or gestures that are unwelcome and make the recipient uncomfortable. 

Sometimes comments and jokes may initially appear more subtle to the observer. For example, a colleague might make a seemingly harmless joke about another employee's appearance that makes the employee uncomfortable. Or a supervisor might make suggestive comments to a subordinate under the guise of complimenting their work. Nevertheless, such comments and "jokes" can create a hostile work environment and should not be tolerated.

2: Invasion of Personal Space and Unwanted Touching.

Respecting personal space is a fundamental aspect of professional etiquette. However, invasion of personal space can be a sign of sexual harassment that often goes unnoticed or is dismissed as harmless. This can include standing too close, leaning over someone, or touching someone without their consent. Such behaviors can make the recipient feel uncomfortable, threatened, or violated.

It's important for employees and employers to understand and respect the boundaries of personal space in the workplace. This includes maintaining an appropriate distance during conversations and meetings, avoiding unnecessary physical contact, and being aware of body language and non-verbal cues. If someone appears uncomfortable or asks you to respect their personal space, it's important to heed their request and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Understanding the Implications of Unwanted Physical Contact.

Unwanted physical contact is a clear violation of personal boundaries and can constitute sexual harassment. This can include behaviors such as touching, hugging, patting, stroking, or brushing up against someone without their consent. Even if these actions are not overtly sexual, they can still be considered harassment if they make the recipient uncomfortable or create a hostile work environment.

3: Sexual or Discriminatory Remarks about Appearance, Clothing, or Lifestyle.

Another sign of sexual harassment is the use of sexist or discriminatory remarks about someone's appearance, clothing, or lifestyle. For example, a colleague might make a comment about another employee's clothing being too revealing or a derogatory remark about an employee's lifestyle choices. These remarks, if based on the person's sex, can be demeaning, offensive, and can create a hostile work environment. It's important to understand that such comments are not just inappropriate, but they can constitute sexual harassment.

4: Persistent Unwanted Advances or Attention.

It's important to recognize the difference between friendly interaction and harassment in the workplace. While it's perfectly normal to form friendships and engage in social interaction at work, it becomes a problem when these interactions become unwelcome, inappropriate, or uncomfortable.For example, a colleague might constantly ask another employee out for drinks or dinner, despite being turned down multiple times. Or a supervisor might pay excessive attention to a subordinate, such as frequently visiting their desk, calling or emailing them unnecessarily, or giving them unwarranted compliments.

Persistent unwanted advances or attention based on sex is a sign of sexual harassment that can sometimes be dismissed as harmless or misunderstood as friendly behavior.

5: Use of Technology to Harass or Intimidate.

In today's digital age, sexual harassment can occur online or through the use of technology. This is known as cyber sexual harassment and can include behaviors such as sending inappropriate emails, text messages, or social media messages; sharing or threatening to share intimate images without consent; or making inappropriate comments or advances online. Cyber sexual harassment can be just as harmful and distressing as in-person harassment, and it should be taken just as seriously.

It's important for employees and employers to understand that workplace policies and laws against sexual harassment also apply to online behaviors. This means that if you're experiencing cyber sexual harassment from a colleague or supervisor, you have the right to report it and seek help.

How to Respond to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

Documenting incidents of harassment is a crucial step in addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes writing down the details of each incident, such as the date, time, location, people involved, what was said or done, and any witnesses. It's also helpful to note how the incident affected you and your work.

This documentation can serve as evidence if you decide to report the harassment to your supervisor, human resources department, or another appropriate authority within your organization. It can also be helpful if you decide to file a complaint with a government agency or seek legal advice. Remember, it's your right to work in a safe and respectful environment, and documenting incidents of harassment can help ensure that this right is upheld.

Reporting Procedures and Whistleblower Protections.

Most organizations have procedures in place for reporting sexual harassment. These procedures typically involve reporting the behavior to your supervisor, human resources department, or another appropriate authority within your organization. When reporting, provide as much detail as possible, including the information you've documented about each incident.

It's important to know that you're protected by law from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. Your employer cannot fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment. If you do face retaliation, you should report it immediately and consider seeking legal advice.

Seeking Legal Advice and Support.

If you're experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, it can be helpful to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights, guide you through the reporting process, and provide support if you decide to file a complaint with a government agency or file a lawsuit. Remember, you're not alone, and there are resources available to help you navigate this difficult situation.

At Nichols Kaster, PLLP, we specialize in employment law and are committed to helping employees address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. If you're experiencing sexual harassment, don't hesitate to contact us for a confidential consultation. We're here to help you ensure that your rights are upheld.

Contact us today at (877) 344-4628 to learn more about your rights!