Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

By Amanda Covaleski - Dec. 17, 2020

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Everybody deserves a workplace where they feel safe and free to do their job without the fear of being sexually harassed. Workplace sexual harassment creates a tense environment at a minimum and a dangerous situation at worst.

Harassment in the workplace is an issue that once went grossly unchecked. Now, it is becoming more controlled by establishing definitions of what exactly constitutes sexual harassment and putting procedures in place for handling it.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment refers to a display of explicit or implicit inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature. There isn’t one specific kind of person who can experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It can happen to someone of any gender, age, and professional level.

Inappropriate sexual behavior creates a hostile work environment where productivity falls to the wayside, and employee mental health is at stake. Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered discrimination under Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, an effort to create a system for bringing justice to those affected.

What Is Non-Sexual Harassment

Non-sexual harassment can be just as destructive to an employee and a business environment. It involves discrimination for reasons outside of sexual harassment, such as race, age, or religion. These are verbal or physical behaviors that harm the victim, leaving them feeling offended or bullied by the perpetrator.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take on various forms, and each person who’s affected has a different experience. A sexual harasser’s behavior can be very actively demeaning and noticeable, but sometimes a person may not even realize that what they’re experiencing is sexual harassment.

Review the list below to familiarize yourself with examples of what sexual harassment looks like in the workplace.

  1. Unwanted sexual advances. Having a sexual relationship with a co-worker or supervisor is never a great idea. If one party is not interested in a sexual relationship, and the advances continue, it becomes an explicit demonstration of sexual harassment. Unwanted advances are frightening, irritating, and utterly inappropriate in the workplace.

    Examples of unwanted sexual advances include:

    • Trying to kiss a co-worker

    • Repeatedly asking for a co-worker’s phone number

    • Excessive complimenting or asking out on dates

  2. Sending emails or letters with sexual undertones. Written communication is an integral part of a productive business. Having emails or letters be muddled with sexual comments or suggestions is unprofessional and harmful to the work environment.

  3. Making vulgar jokes. While having a laugh at work can help dispel stress, inappropriate or sexual jokes constitute harassment. A joke that involves crude or offensive humor makes people uncomfortable, even if they don’t say it directly. There’s a clear distinction between what jokes should be made in the office and what humor is for after hours.

  4. Sexually suggestive gestures. A perpetrator doesn’t even necessarily need to say a word for their behavior to be sexual harassment. Lewd gestures have the same negative impact on workplace relationships that verbal comments do.

    Examples of suggestive gestures include:

    • Inappropriate or extended staring

    • Hand gestures with a sexual intention

    • Making noises like whistling at a co-worker

    • Threatening body language

  5. Inappropriate touching. Once sexual harassment has been taken to the level of inappropriate touching, it’s becoming dangerous. Unwanted touching demonstrates a complete lack of care for the victim’s personal space and professional protocol. Even though some acts of inappropriate touching may seem insignificant, it alludes to a more significant issue.

    Examples of inappropriate touching include:

    • Patting

    • Purposefully brushing against a co-worker

    • Sitting uncomfortably close

    • Unwanted hugging

    • Grabbing

    • Massaging

Examples of Non-Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Non-sexual harassment is equally as harmful to a productive and positive workplace. Similarly, non-sexual discrimination behaviors can range from vicious to uncomfortable.

  1. Stereotypes. Jokes or comments about stereotypes in the workplace can make both the victim and listening co-workers feel offended. Stereotypes about race, religion, or ethnicity aren’t appropriate workplace conversation or commentary.

  2. Commenting negatively on a person’s traits. Unnecessarily making negative comments about a co-worker’s physical or personality traits that are unrelated to work is perceived as discrimination.

    Topics that have no business being commented on at work include a co-worker’s:

    • Religious beliefs

    • Skin color

    • Age

    • Gender

    Professional feedback is recommended as part of a team, but out-of-line and unhelpful comments are not.

  3. Sharing offensive videos or pictures. Even though sending an offensive picture or video only takes a simple click, it can have a lasting effect on a co-worker. Opening a message from a supervisor or co-worker to find a video with inappropriate content is unsettling and virtual harassment.

  4. Using racist terminology. Making racist comments in the form of name-calling, slurs, phrases is completely unacceptable anywhere and anytime. That includes the workplace. If you’ve been targeted by racist commentary or witnessed it in your job, action should be taken immediately.

  5. Disrespectful attacks. Commenting negatively on a person’s traits can be exasperated to being a disrespectful attack on a co-worker. This means that harassment is an ongoing issue and is becoming entirely disruptive to the work environment.

    Examples of disrespectful attacks include:

    • Demeaning a co-worker for their age

    • Discriminating against an employee because of their gender

    • Bullying a co-worker about their religious beliefs

    • Insulting an employee’s sexual orientation

How to Handle Workplace Harassment

Being a victim of either sexual or non-sexual harassment is a mentally draining and stressful situation, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. It’s essential to know the rules of what inappropriate behavior is and how to handle it. There are options you can explore to improve your workplace environment and end the harassment for good.

  1. Report the harassment to your employer. The first thing you should do if you’re experiencing any kind of harassment in the workplace is to report the occurrence to your employer. Reporting the issue as soon as possible will result in a better outcome. A trusted manager or human resources personnel can give you guidance for the next steps and establish a record for the harassment taking place.

  2. Check your company’s policy. Many organizations have processes in place to assist their employees in the event of harassment. The steps might involve filing an internal complaint or putting you in touch with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who can help you navigate your legal recourse. This will make the process of resolving the situation a little smoother.

  3. Keep an ongoing record. Once you have been exposed to workplace harassment and have reported it to your employer, keep a continuous record of all proceedings. Be sure to keep a written copy of your formal complaint that includes a description of the events that transpired and who was informed within the company – even if the report takes place over an in-person meeting.

    This becomes important if the behavior doesn’t stop and you’re forced to seek legal action.

  4. Gather information and witnesses. People willing to attest to the inappropriate events that occurred will strengthen your case for an investigating officer. You shouldn’t feel pressured into talking about it with co-workers if you feel uncomfortable. However, you should gather all the necessary information that’s relevant to your case.

  5. File a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The purpose of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is to act as an ally on behalf of employees who have been discriminated against, whether it is sexual or not.

    When your employer isn’t taking valid action to stop the harassment, filing with the EEOC is the first step towards suing. This is a more drastic measure that will likely result in leaving your current position, but this could end up being for the better.

    Filing a charge with the EEOC must be done within 180 days from when the harassment occurred.

  6. Continue strong work performance. It’s difficult to continue putting hard work into a position where you’re being sexually harassed, but continuing to meet your job responsibilities will reflect positively on you. Try to continue working to the best of your abilities to demonstrate the strong employee you are, despite the frustrating circumstances.

  7. Consider resigning. While nobody is thrilled at the possibility of resigning due to harassment, it may be a necessary evil to put you in a better working environment. Report the harassment to all the proper outlets and make a decision on filing charges against your employer before putting in resignation notice.

    Leaving your job should be in pursuit of a better opportunity, not retreating. Harassment perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions and fired if their behavior persists.

  8. Turn to loved ones for support. Whether you decide to resign, seek legal action, or have a harassment matter resolved quickly by your employer, it’s an exhausting situation to endure. In times like these, you may find comfort in confiding in your friends, family, or any objective party. Certain harassment circumstances are so painful that you should even seek help from a licensed professional.

    Even when the harassment ends, it can leave an impact on your mental health, productivity, and sense of security at work. Turning to loved ones or counseling professionals can help you get through the residual struggles of being harassed at work.

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Amanda Covaleski

Amanda is a writer with experience in various industries, including travel, real estate, and career advice. After taking on internships and entry-level jobs, she is familiar with the job search process and landing that crucial first job. Included in her experience is work at an employer/intern matching startup where she marketed an intern database to employers and supported college interns looking for work experience.

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