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What constitutes sexual harassment at work?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2022 | Employment Law, Workplace Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace comes in many forms. It could involve coworkers, clients, supervisors or customers, and range from inappropriate comments, unwanted touching or bribes for promotions or special treatment in exchange for a sexual favor.

All too often, the teasing, offensive comments, intimidation or bullying goes unreported out of fear of retaliation and losing the job. However, many people endure sexual harassment because they do not realize their rights and what constitutes a violation.

Sexual harassment violations

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a federal law that makes sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. This harassment could include verbal actions, such as:

  • Inappropriate comments about appearance or the body
  • Unwanted requests for a date or sexual favor
  • Jokes or derogatory remarks concerning sexual orientation or gender
  • Explicit, offensive or vulgar jokes about sexual activities
  • Gossip discussing someone’s sex life or personal relationships

Physical actions can also violate the law, including:

  • Touching another person in an inappropriate or unwanted way
  • Making sexual gestures, leering or staring
  • Blocking someone’s movement

In addition, sharing, displaying or sending lewd or vulgar images or sharing texts, emails or other messages that are sexual in nature can fall under the category of sexual harassment.

Victims of harassment

Even if the conduct is not directly aimed at an individual, the situation still constitutes harassment. The work environment is to be free from harassment and discrimination regardless of who is the target for the comments or behaviors.

Many workplaces have a reporting system for issues involving harassment, and this is usually found in the employee handbook. Reporting incidents is a legal right; employment law prohibits both harassment and retaliation for reporting it.