Sexual harassment in or relating to the workplace is prohibited by law. Fair Employment and Housing Commission regulations define sexual harassment as follows: unwanted sexual advances, visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
There are two main categories of sexual harassment:
- “Quid pro quo” harassment occurs when one’s employment is contingent upon that employee or applicant’s acceptance of unwelcome sexual behavior.
- “Hostile work environment” harassment occurs when an employee is subject to severe and pervasive sexual behavior, thereby creating a hostile workplace environment.
There are certain behaviors which may not be categorized as legally “sexual harassment”. The law does not recognize teasing, one-off comments or isolated incidents, which are not as serious as sexual harassment. However, if this type of harassment is frequent, it could potentially be seen as hostile work environment harassment.
Victims may take legal action against acts of sexual harassment if they include the following elements:
- The behavior is of a sexual nature
- The behavior is pervasive
- Severity (may be one explicit act or implicit on-going behavior)
WHAT IF I AM NOT PHYSICALLY HARMED?
The involvement of physical touching is not necessarily required for behavior to be considered sexual harassment. Gestures or speech which are pervasive, severe and of a sexual nature can still constitute sexual harassment.
Examples of sexual harassment include the following:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances
- Verbal sexual advances or propositions
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual, suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations
- Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements
- Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures, cartoon or posters
- Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes
COMMON FORMS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Am I being sexually harassed if it only occurs once?
If an act of sexual behavior is made on the condition of receiving employment benefits (quid pro quo harassment), the one act constitutes as sexual harassment.
Is Flirting Sexual Harassment?
Flirting is unlawful sexual harassment when the offender’s behavior is unwanted and severe or pervasive. Because it is uncertain to determine whether sexual advances are unwanted, it is important to make it clear to the offender that their behavior is unacceptable.
There is uncertainty about what constitutes unwanted behavior. What may be flattering to some may be hostile to others.
Courts will examine the behavior to how a reasonable person would be affected in the employee’s position. If an employee is offended by some kind of behavior which most would not find offensive, then they are unlikely to have a viable sexual harassment case.
Can I be sexually harassed if the act involves a consensual relationship with a work colleague?
Sexual harassment occurs during or after you have been in a consensual relationship with a colleague and is trying to compel you to continue the relationship. However, in these cases it may be more difficult to prove if the behavior is unwanted.
If sexual harassment involving a consensual relationship occurs when your former partner makes getting back into a relationship a condition of your employment, it is considered to be quid pro quo harassment.
If your former partner is making your workplace a severe or hostile environment because you won’t continue to be in a relationship with them, it could constitute as hostile work environment harassment.
Please contact an attorney if you believe you’re being sexually harassed at work.