Sexual harassment creates hostility and loss of trust. It makes employees feel unsafe or threatened at work. Sexual harassment has a broad definition, but it generally refers to behaving in manner that is sexually inappropriate in the workplace. It is your employer’s legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that your work environment remains free from sexual harassment at all times. If your employer has failed to take sufficient proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment, you can take steps to remedy the situation. You do not have to put up with unacceptable behavior from anyone at your job—regardless of your position in the company.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment comes in many different forms. Some are overt and obvious, such as making unwelcome advances or requests for sexual favors. If a coworker makes comments about your body, physical appearance or attractiveness, this can be considered sexual harassment if it makes you uncomfortable.
Here are a few other examples of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment:
- Telling jokes that are lewd or inappropriate for the workplace
- Asking personal questions of a sexual nature
- Hooting, whistling, or catcalls,
- Implying that your response to a sexual advance could affect your job status
- Making physical gestures of a sexual nature
- Staring, glancing, or excessive eye contact
- Displaying pornography or obscene material
Third-Party Sexual Harassment
The legal definition of sexual harassment does not end with your supervisor or co-workers. If a customer, client, vendor or other non-employee interacts with you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, your employer is obligated to take steps to protect you. If your work situation requires you to interact with non-employees, you are legally entitled to ask your employer to take action if the need arises—and it is illegal for your employer to neglect your request.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Promotions, pay raises and other types of preferential treatment are sometimes “traded” for sexual favors. This practice, referred to as “quid pro quo sexual harassment,” is a form of illegal discrimination. Like all sexual harassment, some cases are more obvious than others. For example, if a supervisor promoted someone else over you—and you believe that the supervisor’s decision was motivated by the other person’s sexual attractiveness or favorable response to flirtation—this may fall under the category of quid pro quo sexual harassment.