What is Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?


What is Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment is far less tolerated now than it was in years past, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes, it’s hard for people to tell what is and what isn’t sexual harassment. Is flirting harassment? Is complimenting someone on their outfit harassment? The legal definition of sexual harassment has a number of qualifications and characteristics attached to it. If your behavior or the behavior of another falls into these categories, even one of them, you might be guilty of or experiencing sexual harassment.


Is the gesture or behavior unwanted? If it is, then it’s harassment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the person on the other end of the behavior has to tell you that your behavior is unwanted. For instance, most people should be aware that going up and touching someone in a sensitive area when they didn’t ask for it is unwanted behavior.


Is the behavior threatening? This doesn’t have to mean you’re hovering over someone with an ax. Threatening behavior can be posturing. Are you standing in front of the door refusing to let someone out? Are you trying to tower over someone to intimidate them? Can your behavior be construed as such? Is it obvious that the other person feels afraid or intimidated? If so, then your behavior is likely threatening and you should stop.

Interferes with Work Life or Work Success

This definition can mean many things. If someone is afraid to come to work because they don’t want to deal with your behavior, you’re interfering with their work life. If the quality of their work is suffering because working in proximity to you is stressful due to your unwanted behavior, then you’re interfering with their work success. Any time someone feels like they don’t want to be at work, are unsafe at work, or can’t focus on their work due to the actions or words of another, they’re experiencing the effects of this characteristic of sexual harassment.

Creates a Hostile Work Environment

Again, any behavior that is sexual in nature and creates a hostile work environment (i.e. stalking, threatening, unwanted touching, etc.) is sexual harassment. Nobody should come to work feeling threatened or unsafe. The workplace has to be and should be a safe, collaborative space in which people can come together to work on the jobs and tasks at hand. Any time you ruin that for someone with your actions and persistence, you create a hostile environment for them.

Causes Physical or Emotional Distress

The actions you take at work can greatly affect people outside of work, too. If you’re constantly touching someone when they don’t want to be, making advances that aren’t wanted, continuing to communicate with someone in flirtatious ways after they say no, or anything similar to these actions, you can cause that person physical or emotional distress. This behavior can cause stress, sadness, anger, frustration, and physical illness. When that happens, you’ve gone too far and have crossed into the realm of sexual harassment.

No Means No

Sexual harassment can be avoided by remembering the simple adage “no means no”. If someone tells you not to do something, don’t do it. If they turn you down, stop bothering them about it. If they’re married or in a relationship, don’t be flirtatious and make them uncomfortable. And use common sense. If you wouldn’t want someone touching, speaking to, or behaving towards you or a loved one like you’re behaving towards someone else, then stop doing it. If you’re the victim of harassment, go to HR, and if nothing happens, go to law enforcement. You have the right to feel protected and safe at work.

Sexual harassment is still a problem, and men and women can both be victims. If you’re the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, get an attorney to help you defend yourself. Too often, companies are more concerned with protecting their image or certain people in powerful positions than they are with creating a safe place for all to work. If HR won’t help or they’re doing too little, hire an attorney to help you protect yourself and fight for your rights in the workplace.


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