Sexual harassment at work is about discrimination and power -- not sex. If your employer happens to have 15 or more employees, it's also a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But, do you know what actually constitutes sexual harassment at work? Many people don't. It's easy to second-guess yourself after an incident, and victims often convince themselves (to their detriment) that they're simply "over-reacting" to their aggressor's actions.
Odds are high, however, that they're really not. Here is how you figure out whether or not something truly is sexual harassment at work:
1. The behavior is unwelcome
Flirting with your co-worker may or may not be against company policy, but it isn't sexual harassment if you welcome it. If you don't, however, and you make it clear that you want to keep things professional, ignoring your request is harassment.
2. The conduct is either sexual in nature or based on your sex
There are so many different things that can fall under this category that it's impossible to list them all, but here are a few examples:
- Your boss says, "I like that blouse. You should show some cleavage more often."
- Your co-workers make "jokes" about you doing them sexual favors or performing sexual acts on them.
- Your supervisor puts his hand on your waist or backside while leaning over you to discuss something you're working on.
- A co-worker of the same sex repeatedly touches you, hugs you, plays with your hair or otherwise invades your body space after you've asked him or her to stop.
3. It happens often, or a single incident is severe
It can be difficult to determine when some action crosses the line from "mistake" to actual harassment. Generally speaking, if the actions happen often, that's probably harassment. However, even a single act (like a request for sex in exchange for a promotion or transfer) can also constitute something illegal.
If sexual harassment is negatively affecting your working conditions or creating a work environment that's outright hostile and emotionally destructive, contact our office. We'll give you an honest evaluation of your case and help you understand your options.