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Workplace sexual harassment is broader than you might expect

You may think that workplace sexual harassment refers to inappropriate touching of a woman in the workplace. However, the definition of sexual harassment is actually much broader than that—and there are laws in place to protect workers against sexual harassment at all levels.

In today’s post, we outline what all is considered sexual harassment under the law—and it might surprise you.

What is sexual harassment

Sexual harassment refers to any form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII. Here are some core facts to know about sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo: Roughly translated from Latin as “this for that,” quid pro quo refers to a situation in which a supervisor requests sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for some workplace benefit.
  • Hostile work environment: Sexual harassment exists in a hostile work environment if anyone in the workplace—coworker, supervisor, or third-party vendor—exhibits a pattern of unwanted sexual behavior towards a worker, and supervisors take no action to stop it.
  • Power blind: Anyone in the workplace—regardless of rank—can perpetrate sexual harassment. A power disparity between the perpetrator and the victim is not a prerequisite.
  • Gender blind: You don’t have to be a woman to be a victim of sexual harassment. And a perpetrator doesn’t have to be someone of the opposite sex. Sexual harassment occurs whenever anyone in the workplace acts sexually inappropriately towards another person.
  • Offensive comments: Sexual harassment does not have to be physical—and it doesn’t even have to be sexual in nature. Offensive or degrading comments about someone’s sex are considered sexual harassment.

A note on hostile work environments

A one-off comment or simple teasing by itself is not illegal. To constitute a hostile work environment, there must be a pattern of inappropriate physical or verbal behavior—and a lack of effort by management to curtail it.

If the behavior in your workplace is making you feel uncomfortable or outright threatened, you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. Talking with an experienced employment law attorney about your options is an important first step.

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