Sexual harassment is defined as verbal, written, or physical harassment of a sexual nature, unwanted advances, requests for sex in exchange for a workplace benefit, and offensive remarks about sexual matters or a person’s gender. If that harassment makes someone uncomfortable in the workplace or impacts a person’s status within the workplace, it’s also considered illegal harassment.
Most people think of sexual harassment as situations like these:
- A manager or supervisor requires an intern to perform a sexual act or risk losing his or her job.
- A female employee is constantly leered at or subjected to sexual comments regarding the size of her breasts or a male employee is treated similarly.
- You’re in a bathroom and another coworker follows you into that room or stall and sexually assaults you or threatens to.
- Another employer keeps touching another employer without permission and doesn’t stop when asked.
The victim can be a female, but it can also be a male. A 2019 settlement involved a male worker who reported that his female manager was harassing him. The manager talked about her sex life in front of him, told him she wanted to watch him have sex or join him and his girlfriend for sex, and frequently grabbed him. When he reported her, she locked him in a freezer.
Lesser-Known Sexual Harassment Situations
Those are common sexual harassment situations, but there are other examples that people don’t realize count as sexual harassment. Here are examples of situations that constitute sexual harassment that you may not realize is still considered sexual harassment.
Dirty Jokes or Sexual Bragging in the Workplace
Dirty jokes may seem harmless, but they can be grounds for sexual harassment if it makes another or other employees feel uncomfortable. Dirty jokes are part of it. It can also be true experiences. You’re in the break room and a coworker comes up to everyone at your table and starts talking about their sexual escapades that weekend. You don’t want to overhear it, so you end your lunch early and walk out of the room. If it makes you or another employee uncomfortable, it’s harassment.
Sexually Inappropriate or Offensive Videos or Images
A coworker watches videos at work or uses screensavers that have sexual images that make you uncomfortable. The worker who shares your office has a calendar of half-clad men that you find offensive. You find excuses to avoid your office or avoid your coworker’s work area. That does count as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also occurs if a coworker sends you a sexually explicit meme via email.
Suggestive Comments About Your Clothing or Body
If a coworker or boss makes comments of a sexual nature regarding the clothes you’re wearing, it counts as sexual harassment. Say a male coworker wears a pair of skinny jeans and a boss comments about him having a nice posterior in those tight-fitting jeans. He starts changing his clothing to be looser and looser to avoid the comments. Those comments can be construed as sexual harassment.
Sexually Suggestive Hand Motions or Facial Expressions
Here’s another example of situations where it can count as sexual harassment. You’re walking past your coworker’s desk and he makes suggestive gestures and head motions towards you. It happens every time, and you can’t get to your desk without going past his desk. It’s wrong and is sexual harassment.
Outside of Work Hours Still Counts
People don’t often realize that sexual harassment can take place outside of work hours. You’re at a restaurant and bump into your boss. Your boss has too much to drink and makes suggestive comments about your evening-out fashion choices being “sexy” or “hot.”
When Monday rolls around, you can’t shake your boss’s behavior and the idea of going to work and seeing your boss makes you uncomfortable. That’s still sexual harassment even if it happened outside of work hours.
Questions About Your Sexual Orientation
You’re at work and someone asks you if you’re bisexual or how often you have sex with your partner. You don’t answer and that person keeps asking and joking around. You’re having a hard time getting work done or staying at your desk because the other person will not drop it. It’s sexual harassment.
Things You Overhear
Sexual harassment doesn’t have to have happened specifically to you. You were at a convention with a group of coworkers. You overhear a manager tell a coworker that he won’t get a promotion if he doesn’t dance with her. He does what she says, but it’s clear he didn’t want to. You’re uncomfortable knowing he was the victim of sexual harassment. You can report the incident as sexual harassment even if you were not involved and only overheard it.
There are also non-sexual harassment incidents to think about. Some forms of harassment can make you uncomfortable without being sexual in nature. For example, you’re Muslim and wear a hijab. One of your coworkers comments on how you look in a hijab. While it may be a sexual comment, it could also be non-sexual in nature. Both could be harassment, but you’d report it differently. Make sure you’re not confusing these situations.
What to Do to Report Sexual Harassment
Pew Research surveyed 6,251 workers about sexual harassment. The survey found that 59% of women and 27% of men have been sexually harassed both inside and outside of work. It’s more common than you might think. If you’re among the numbers who have experienced it, it’s important to speak up.
If you’re the victim of sexual harassment, look at your employee handbook and see how you report cases of sexual harassment. You might tell your supervisor. You may go right to the HR department. File a complaint.
Pay close attention to deadlines. The EEOC requires reports to be made within 6 months (180 days). California law extends it to 300 days, which is about 10 months. It’s not a lot of time.
Document as much as you can with a log of when incidents occurred. Keep emails or written notes that you were handed that prove your case. Check your personnel file to see what is said about you after you file a complaint. If you have coworkers or other witnesses to back up your account of events, be prepared to share their names.
Finally, watch for acts of retaliation. Earlier, the case of the male restaurant worker who was locked in a freezer when he filed a complaint is a clear case of retaliation. If you make a complaint and the coworker, friends of the coworker, your boss, or another person retaliates against you, you need to talk to a lawyer.
Sexual harassment cases don’t have to cost you a lot of money. Shegerian Conniff offers free consultations. If they take your case, you don’t pay anything unless the case is successful and you get a financial settlement or award. At that point, the attorney fees are taken from a percentage of your award/settlement.
Talk to us about your situation and get professional input on what to do next. Call Shegerian Conniff now or fill out the contact form and learn more about your rights when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.