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How do you recognize sexual harassment?

In today’s supercharged atmosphere of sexual harassment complaints rising out of the “me too” movement, a lot of people are re-examining what it means to be sexually harassed.

What’s the difference between an office romance and sexual imposition? What’s the difference between a harmless flirtation and inappropriate sexual contact?

Identifying sexual harassment

For those trying to figure it out, these are some concrete examples you can use to define sexual harassment:

  • A co-worker or supervisor asks you about your sexual history or insists on discussing their own
  • Sexual comments are made about your clothes, body or appearance
  • Pornography is passed around the office, left where it can be seen or otherwise distributed
  • An employee or a customer persists in sending you suggestive email, love notes or asks repeatedly for a date
  • An employee or customer touches you, pats you or rubs up against you

In reality, there’s no such thing as harmless flirtation inside the workplace. There’s no way to ensure that the conduct is welcome — the person on the other end of the flirtation may not feel free to express his or her dismay at the behavior. The victim may be afraid of what will happen to his or her reputation or career if he or she doesn’t “play along.” That’s also the reason that office romances are usually against company policy.

In short, any actions that have a sexual meaning or undertone set the stage for a work environment that is hostile. If the sexually-oriented behavior of your supervisor, co-workers or customers ends up creating a sense of discomfort and unease that interferes with your ability to function, it can be called sexual harassment.

Responding to sexual harassment

In order for you to have a legally actionable claim due to sexual harassment, you need to clearly express your desire for the sexual innuendo or actions to stop. Take your complaint to your immediate supervisor (unless he or she is your harasser, in which case you need to go further up the ladder) and document the response.

If the harassment doesn’t stop, your wisest course of action is to explore all your legal options.

Source: the balance, “Examples of Sexual and Non-Sexual Harassment,” Alison Doyle, Feb. 08, 2018

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