What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment?

What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) performed a study in 2016 that found that around three-quarters of people who suffered from harassment at work didn’t bring it up to a manager. This could be for many reasons, such as not knowing who is responsible for preventing sexual harassment at work.

Whether they’re afraid of being fired or unsure whether the advances counted as sexual harassment, reporting unwanted advances at work can cause stress to employees. What constitutes workplace sexual harassment? Where does the law draw that line? Knowledge is power when it comes to your rights in the workplace.

Types of Harassment

The EEOC outlines two main categories of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Hostile work environment: If another employee’s unwanted advances distract you at work, or if they create an unbearably abusive environment, report that behavior through the appropriate channels. You shouldn’t feel sick to your stomach at the thought of coming to work. If a colleague doesn’t leave you alone, talk to your supervisor about possible next steps.
  • Quid pro quo: Is your supervisor asking you for sexual favors in return for job advances or opportunities? Do they withhold promotions or pay raises from people who refuse their come-ons? Your refusal to acquiesce should not have adverse effects on your career.

Inappropriate Conduct

Harassment at work comes in many recognizable forms, whether it’s your supervisor, a client, or a colleague making you uncomfortable. Do any of the following actions look familiar?

  • Physical conduct: Unwanted massages, pinches, or squeezes are a severe violation of your personal space. If there is no innocuous, nonsexual reason for them to touch you like that, those touches can constitute sexual harassment.
  • Verbal conduct: Nobody should ever make intrusive comments about your body or lascivious noises about what you’re wearing. However, if your colleague likes to talk loudly and repeatedly about their sex life, you may not be the only one in the office that’s uncomfortable.
  • Digital conduct: Is the person in question sending you links to explicit videos or articles—or pictures of themselves? Sexual harassment has gone digital in recent years, with some offenders sending suggestive or explicit photos of themselves to unwilling recipients. Keep a record of all inappropriate digital communication for HR purposes.

Additional Facts

Sexual harassment in the workplace is often gendered, and women tend to receive the brunt of it. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to men. In fact, men are less likely to report sexual harassment out of worry that nobody will believe or help them. It’s in the company’s best interest to investigate all harassment claims, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

Not all sexual harassment stems from lecherousness or desire. Any sexist comments that tear down an employee based on their gender can also constitute sexual harassment.

Any and all harassment in the workplace is unacceptable; you shouldn’t have to absorb it day after day. Know what constitutes workplace sexual harassment so that you can advocate for yourself.