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5 Things Sexual Harassment Is Not

Sexual Harassment is Notsexual-harassment-best-picture

  • Funny
  • Easy for victims to avoid.
  • Conduct or behavior that must be endured or tolerated.
  • Limited to women.  Men can be sexually harassed.
  • Conduct or behavior that should be ignored by victims or coworkers.

Sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination and a topic that is in the news often. Although the U.S. Supreme Court and state judiciaries have issued decisions that warn employers that there will be stringent consequences if they don’t take steps to prevent sexual harassment, sexual harassment continues.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination, including harassment and retaliation, because of 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.

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.

Sexual harassment comes in two forms.

(1) Quid pro quo (“this for that” or “something for something”) involves unwelcome 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.

(2) 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

* makes repeated, disparaging comments about women to anyone who will listen, including the women that report to him.

* posts pornographic pictures around his office and on his screensaver.

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.

Telling someone that his or her behavior is unwanted or offensive is an important first step in stopping sexual harassment. Why? It puts the person on notice, and gives the person the opportunity to change, but it is not necessary. Employers are required to maintain a harassment-free work environment which means that harassing conduct should be stopped by the employer.

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.

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 will serve as a deterrent.

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 position, 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 were wearing (bikinis, speedos, etc.) whether alcohol was consumed and by whom.


* 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.

About the Author

multifaceted employment professional, author and lecturer