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What qualifies as sexual harassment?

June 09, 2015

We all think that we would recognize sexual harassment if we experienced it in the workplace. However, behavior doesn’t have to be as blatant as a sexual advance to be considered sexual harassment under the law.

A number of types of unwelcome behavior, both physical and verbal, of a sexual nature qualify as sexual harassment. These can include asking for sexual favors, sexual advances and any conduct that, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

Following are some things you may not realize about sexual harassment:

— People who are impacted by someone else’s conduct, even if they aren’t the ones directly being harassed, they can be considered victims of sexual harassment.

— The harasser doesn’t have to be the opposite sex of the person being harassed.

— A person need not have lost his or her job or suffered any kind of economic injury in order to be a victim of sexual harassment.

— A harasser does not have to be a victim’s supervisor or even a fellow employee.

Sexual harassment is a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and specifically of Title VII of that law, which makes sex discrimination illegal. Title VII applies to local, state and federal governments, labor organizations, employment agencies and any entity with more than 14 employees.

Employees who believe that they are the victims of sexual harassment can sometimes end the problem simply by telling the harasser to stop because the behavior is unwelcome. If that doesn’t put an end to it, you should report the behavior to the human resources department or whatever person or department handles grievances. If these actions don’t resolve the problem or if you suffer retaliation for reporting harassment, you should determine what your legal options.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Facts About Sexual Harassment,” accessed June 09, 2015

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