Sexual harassment at work is never a laughing matter. What might seem like an innocent joke, or a bit harmless contact to one person could easily be seen as a violation to another. Workplace sexual harassment might not even be physical or verbal – some type of non-verbal behavior can also fall under the sexual harassment definition. As long as a person’s actions are based on sex or gender, the person on the receiving end of those actions could claim harassment if those actions are unwanted.
The line between innocent fun and sexual harassment at work can be extremely thin. Here’s a look at what is and is not typically considered harassing behavior, and what you can do to protect your rights if you feel you’ve been victimized.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
When someone kisses a co-worker who isn’t his or her spouse or significant other, and the person being kissed doesn’t appreciate it, that could be considered sexual harassment at work. Any sort of flirting, in fact, could be viewed as fitting the sexual harassment definition.
Physical sexual harassment comes in many forms. Here are some of the more common types.
- Touching someone in any sort of unwelcome fashion, such as putting a hand on someone else’s back, or fondling his or her hair.
- Giving an unwanted shoulder or neck massage – particular when the person has said they don’t want to be touched.
- Hugging someone, or standing extremely close to them in a manner that makes them uncomfortable.
Again, though, harassment doesn’t have to be physical in nature. Here are just a few examples of verbal sexual harassment.
- Whistles or cat calls
- Talking about a person’s sexual preferences or experiences, or commenting on their body.
- Kissing sounds, or sounds typically associated with sex.
Someone can also commit workplace sexual harassment without saying a word. These are some typical acts of non-verbal harassment.
- Using the hands or body to imitate a sexual act.
- Making gestures or symbols that could be considered vulgar.
- Staring at someone intensely, or looking up and down in a suggestive fashion.
What Constitutes “Severe” or “Pervasive” Sexual Harassment?
Part of the sexual harassment definition is that the act has to be “severe” or “pervasive.” This is another area where the law can get a bit confusing. What do these terms really mean? The obvious example of a severe sexual act, of course, is rape.
But when it comes to sexual harassment, the definition isn’t nearly as clear. There are a lot of factors that go into determining exactly what constitutes “severe” or “pervasive.” These include the frequency at which these acts occur, the person or people who commit the acts, and the setting in which they take place.
Contact An Employment Lawyer You’ve Been the Victim of Sexual Harassment
It takes a skilled, experienced attorney to be able to navigate all the complexities of a workplace sexual harassment case. If you feel you’ve been harassed as a result of your gender, get in touch with a skilled employment lawyer immediately.