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What does sexual harassment in the workplace look like?

In recent months, sexual harassment in the workplace has been at the forefront of national news. Between allegations of misconduct against celebrities and political figures and the growing #MeToo movement, it seems as though a news story comes out every day about an alleged incident involving workplace sexual harassment.

However, despite the fact that there is so much attention directed toward this issue right now, individuals can still be unsure of whether they are a victim of sexual harassment and what they can do if they are.

What is sexual harassment?

Often, people think of sexual harassment as inappropriate, lewd comments or unwanted touching. While these can certainly be examples of harassment, there are numerous other forms.

  • Sending someone explicit photos or messages
  • Promising job opportunities in exchange for dates or sexual acts
  • Threatening employment consequences for not engaging in sexual acts
  • Making crude gestures or jokes
  • Asking someone intrusive, inappropriate, sexual questions
  • Displaying offensive materials or images in the workspace
  • "Accidentally" brushing up against someone
  • Following someone around
  • Leering or staring at someone
  • Continually asking someone out on a date despite repeated rejections

These and other statements or actions can be subtle or overt, but they could all be construed as harassment in the workplace.

What can victims do?

Isolated instances of harassment may not warrant legal action. However, as this article from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes, it is illegal and can be grounds for a lawsuit if the harassment fits into one of the two following categories:

  1. The harassment is so pervasive or frequent that it creates a hostile work environment.
  2. It leads to adverse actions against the victim if he or she complains or doesn't participate.

If you feel that you are the victim of this type of harassment, it can be crucial to file a complaint with your supervisor or a Human Resources representative. If the matter is not appropriately resolved by your employer, then you can discuss with an attorney the options to file a lawsuit seeking damages.

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