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5 Things Sexual Harassment Is Not and More*

Sexual harassment is a form of illegal discrimination and a topic that has dominated news cycle after news cycle, thanks to the courage of women like Wendy Walsh and Gretchen Carlson, and the media savvy of their experienced employment attorneys, Lisa Bloom and Nancy Erika Smith.

As a seasoned attorney who specializes in employment and labor law issues myself, and the author of Get the Job • Done , an employment advice book which addresses harassment, I am compelled to dispel some misconceptions about sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment is Not:

1. Funny

  • Sexual harassment is not a joke. Before anyone in the workplace, man or woman, regardless of gender or sexual identity, engages in conduct that may be unwelcome, make someone uncomfortable and may constitute sexual harassment in any form, they should ask themselves whether they would want their loved ones, spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, grandmother or grandfather to witness their behavior or be the victim of such behavior. Hopefully, just the thought may serve as a deterrent.

2. Easy for victims to avoid.

  • Harassment doesn’t have to be of a sexual nature however and can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender or one of the other protected categories listed above. For example, it’s illegal to harass a woman, by making persistently, offensive comments about women in general, e.g., women are stupid or dumb or women are only good for one thing.
  • Telling someone that their behavior is unwanted or offensive is an important first step in stopping sexual harassment because it puts the person on notice, and gives the person the opportunity to change…but it is not necessary.

3. Conduct or behavior that must be endured or tolerated.

  • Employers are required to maintain a harassment-free work environment which means that harassing conduct should be stopped by the employer.

4. Conduct or behavior that should be ignored by victims or coworkers.

  • Ridding workplaces of sexual harassment and any other form of illegal discriminatory conduct and bullying is everyone’s responsibility. Men as well as women should speak up if they see or hear inappropriate conduct or commentary where they work or at work-sponsored events.

5. Limited to women.  Men can be sexually harassed.

  • Please note: The victim and the harasser can be male or female.
    • The victim and harasser can be the same gender.
    • The harasser can be
      • the victim’s supervisor,
      • a supervisor in another area,
      • a coworker, or
      • someone who isn’t an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
  • Consider this: Many if not most times power is a factor in sexual harassment.  As women climb career ladders and shatter glass ceilings, they should take care to not to abuse their power and authority.

A Sexual Harassment Primer

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination, including harassment and retaliation, because of, among other things, race, color, sex, religion, and national origin.
  • Workplace harassment typically occurs when an employee’s status or benefits are directly affected by intimidating, unwelcome conduct by a manager or person of authority.

Sexual Harassment Comes in Two Forms.

  • Quid pro quo (“this for that” or “something for something”) involves welcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors as a condition of employment or to receive a benefit and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Examples: A supervisor says to a direct report,
    • If you sleep with me, I’ll promote you.
    • To keep your job, you have to have sex with me.
  • Hostile work environment is created when behavior alters an employee’s terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectation of a comfortable work environment, or by behavior that is discriminatory in nature.  Examples: Everyday, a supervisor
    • If you sleep with me, I’ll promote you.
    • To keep your job, you have to have sex with me.

If you believe that you are the victim of sexual harassment:

  • Immediately after the offensive conduct, write down everything that happened,
    • Identify, by name and title or relation to your employer, the person who offended you,
    • When and where the incident occurred,
    • Who witnessed the conduct, exactly what was said and how it made you feel.
  • Depending on the circumstance and situation, you may want to note what all people present, including you, were wearing (bikinis, speedos, etc.) whether alcohol was consumed, estimate how much (if you know) and by whom.
  • Consultant an experienced employment attorney. Do not rely on the services of the attorney who handled the closing on your home or condo.



* This post does not provide legal advice but rather only a list of some of those laws, and is provided for informational purposes only.  Contact your local bar association for a list of attorneys, if you need legal advice.
© 2017 by Parthenon Enterprises, Inc. (Your Employment Matters). All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

multifaceted employment professional, author and lecturer