Aldrich Goldstein

Was I sexually harassed? A breakdown of sexual harassment

When people face sexual harassment at work, they often find themselves wondering if that's really what happened to them. Are they reading too much into an innocent comment or a joke? They don't want to make a serious accusation against someone when it's not warranted. However, we often do not talk about sexual harassment as much as we should, so they do not know exactly what it looks like.

This is a problematic combination, so let's take a moment to consider what this looks like and what you can do.

Examples of sexual harassment

Per the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the following are all potential examples of sexual harassment at work:

  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances
  • Physical or verbal sexual conduct
  • Harassment that impacts someone's employment
  • Actions that interfere with someone's performance at work
  • Sexual conduct that creates a hostile work environment
  • Comments, actions or other conduct that offends a worker
  • Sexual conduct for the sake of intimidation

A large part of the above is that the actions are unwelcome. For instance, if one worker asked another one out on a date, that is not instantly sexual harassment if the person turns them down. If they repeatedly request a date or begin to treat the person differently after the fact, though, it can become harassment. Once they know that the actions or words are unwelcome, the conduct must stop.

Repetition plays a significant role, as well. If someone makes an offensive joke on one occasion without realizing how offensive it is, for instance, that may not constitute a hostile work environment. If they make the same types of jokes every day, clearly trying to make another employee uncomfortable, then it becomes a hostile environment because that employee feels offended and cannot do their job.

Power structure

Another thing to consider is the power structure in the workplace. This is why many companies have rules against employees dating their supervisors. It can make the lines a bit harder to see.

After all, a supervisor could "ask" an employee out on a date, but are they really interested in a relationship? Or are they trying to use their power and influence to force that person to go out with them? Is there an implied threat that, if the person does not consent to a relationship, they could lose their job?

This is also why intimidation is something that the EEOC considers. It can play a significant role in these situations.

Your rights

As an employee, you do have specific rights and protections in the workplace, and it's important to know exactly what they are if you feel subjected to sexual harassment, intimidation or anything else of this nature.

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