What Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

If you were to ask different people “What is sexual harassment?”, you would get a wide range of responses. This is because sexual harassment in the workplace can fall into a wide range of situations, verbal comments, and even facial expressions. Additionally, the harassment does not have to be sexual in nature, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.

As you can imagine, this can make understanding sexual harassment very confusing for many people. You would be surprised by the number of people who unknowingly experience—or commit—sexual harassment.

male co workers gossiping bout female co worker

Some of the more common forms of sexual harassment in the workplace can include, but may not be limited to:

  • Asking for sex from an employee, manager, co-worker, customer, client, or vendor.
  • Sexually assaulting another.
  • Deliberate and intentional cornering, touching, pinching, kissing, groping, etc.
  • Making gestures at another that sexual in nature.
  • Staring at another in a sexual manner.
  • Emails, text messages, phone calls, or other such communications with another that are sexual in nature.
  • Sexually rubbing or touching yourself in the presence of another.
  • Making facial expressions of a sexual nature, such as licking lips, kissing, or winking.
  • Always steering conversations to topics of a sexual nature.
  • Pressuring another to go out with you.
  • Excessive joking, or making remarks of a sexual nature.
  • Inquiring about another’s sexual preferences, sex life, social life, or sexual fantasies.
  • Stalking another both at work and outside of work.
  • Making up rumors or lies about another that are sexual in nature.
  • Commenting about someone’s looks, anatomy, or clothing in a sexual nature.
  • Making suggestive sexual innuendos or comments.

Key Elements of Sexual Harassment and Other Facts

One of the most important key elements that must be present for sexual harassment to have occurred is unwanted and unwelcome behavior. If the harasser’s actions make you feel intimidated, uncomfortable, or fearful, then it could be sexual harassment.

Most people mistakenly assume a sexual harasser is always a man harassing a woman. Yet, this is not the case. Women have been known to sexually harass men. In addition, the person being harassed can be the same sex as the harasser. The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Additionally, sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment even when the behavior is not targeted at any individual employee. If sexually explicit language and pornography are present in the workplace, this may constitute one form of sexual harassment.

If someone is open to and welcomes the sexual actions of another, then it is not considered sexual harassment. For instance, your non-supervisory co-worker asks you to go out with them on a date. You accept without hesitation. After dating them for a few months, they break up with you. Even though you may be hurt and angry, you cannot claim sexual harassment to get back at them. Other forms of sex discrimination can include gender discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination.

What Is Required to Prove Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Proving sexual harassment often requires being able to present factual evidence and testimony. Emails, text messages, and other such physical evidence can help support your claim. Even if you do not have concrete evidence, it does not mean there is nothing you can do.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, the best thing you can do is speak to a qualified sexual harassment lawyer like here at Pitre & Associates, LLC. Call us at 202-204-3006 today for a free consultation!