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What is Considered Sexual Harassment at Work?

Defining Sexual Harassment

Professionalism is the hallmark of a successful and efficient workplace but the standards of what we consider a professional work environment have shifted over the years. Office spaces have begun shifting from gray wastelands of cubicles to more open and accessible workspaces that mimic those used by companies like Google or Facebook.

Despite all this change, one concern remains the same throughout all workspaces and that is employer sexual harrassment. Definitions of what constitutes unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate behavior have changed as the #metoo movement collectively puts its foot down and says enough to unprofessional and unethical sexual behavior in the workplace. To get justice and file a claim against your aggressor speak to a skilled sexual abuse attorney today to discuss your recovery options.

What Exactly is Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct 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.

Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination that encompases a wide range of inappropriate sexual actions that can be as small as an inappropriate sexual joke to what is sexual abuse and rape.

Who Sexually Harasses or is Sexually Harassed?

According to CNBC one-fifth of American adults have experienced sexual harassment at work. Most portrayals of sexual harassment will consist of the most commonly understood situation of a male using their position of power to make unwanted sexual advances upon a female coworker with the threat of negative consequences relating to their employment status (also called quid pro quo sexual harassment). While this is one of the more common scenarios of sexual assault in the workplace, The reality of who can sexually harass and/or be harassed is much more complex than this.

Traditional gender roles make it a bit more difficult for men to admit but they can be sexually harassed by women. Sexual harassment can also occur between people of the same gender of both genders.

Sexual harassment does not always have to come from someone who has a position of seniority or a position of power. It is possible for an employee to make unwanted sexual advances upon an employer or superior. Sexual harassment can also come from many sources outside of the usual group of work colleagues. Clients, third party contractors, and total strangers to the workplace can all sexually harass.

A lot of the time, people that have had sexual harassment complaints filed against them did not realize that they were making a coworker uncomfortable. Sometimes the person being harassed may not know at the moment what was happening but does later.

What Kind of Behavior is Considered Sexual Harassment?

When most people think of sexual harassment, they visualize a greasy man with a moustache and thick glasses giving an unwanted massage to an uncomfortable woman. This is definitely an example of sexual harassment but the various acts and behaviors that constitute sexual harassment extend much farther.

Verbal Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is not limited to physical contact. Verbal behavior can be considered sexual harassment. For example, inappropriate sexual jokes that make a coworker uncomfortable can be considered a form of sexual harassment. Additional forms of verbal sexual harassment can include:

  • Sexual comments about an employee’s clothes, hair, complexion, or physique
  • Referring to an adult as a girl, stud, sugar, hunk, doll, babe, honey, or any other unprofessional term of endearment
  • Whistling at catcalls at someone
  • Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history
  • Making sexual comments or innuendos
  • Repeatedly asking out a person who is not interested
  • Turning work discussions to sexual topics
  • Telling sexual jokes or stories
  • Telling lies or spreading rumors about a person’s personal sex life
  • Asking personal questions about social or sexual life
  • Making kissing sounds, howling, and smacking lips
  • Making sexual comments about a person’s clothing, anatomy, or looks

Sexual Harassment Through Digital Communication

With the advent of the internet and integration of digital communication into almost every aspect of our lives, sexual harassment as spread into this form of communication as well. Many workplaces require close communication between employees via email or text which can be complicated by sexual harassment.

The professional standards for verbal communication apply to electronic communication as well. Things unique to digital communication such as the ability to send video or link to websites and various forms of media can result in sexual harassment. Links to sexually suggestive websites and videos or pictures of a sexual nature ranging from jokes to full blown pornography can be considered sexual harassment.

Social media can also be a source of sexual harassment where an employee can repeatedly ask an uninterested coworker out or spread lies relating to a coworker’s sexual life. Sometimes this can be even more problematic due to the ability to operate anonymously through certain

Non-Verbal Sexual Harassment

Sometimes non-verbal gestures and behavior can cross the line of professional conduct into sexual harassment. Generally any non verbal behavior that can be seen as being sexual in nature can result in sexual harassment to a coworker that it makes uncomfortable. Things that can be considered non-verbal sexual harassment can include:

  • Giving personal gifts
  • Looking a person up and down
  • Staring at someone
  • Blocking a person’s path
  • Making facial expressions such as winking, throwing kisses, or licking lips
  • Following the person
  • Displaying sexually suggestive visuals
  • Making sexual gestures with hands or through body movements
  • Leaving someone notes with sexual messages or pictures
  • Removal of clothing in front of someone
  • Suggestively touching oneself

Physical Sexual Harassment

Generally, any unwanted physical contact that makes a coworker uncomfortable can potentially be considered sexual harassment. It’s common knowledge that a professional setting has very few instances where physical contact with a coworker is necessary. Handshakes, high fives, first-aid, or a light tap on the shoulder are fairly innocuous and difficult to consider sexual. Massages, hugs, pinching, rubbing, violating someone’s personal space by getting too close, or any other kind of physical contact without a valid nonsexual reason can be considered sexual harassment.

What to do if You’ve been Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexual harassment and assault are grave violations of the law that typically fall under the purview of criminal litigation but there are situations where an employer can be found liable for the damages caused by sexual harassment and assault. If it can be proved that an employer’s negligence through bad hiring practices, or refusal to take action resulted in sexual assault or harassment then a sexual harassment claim to seek compensation may be possible.

Seek an Experienced Florida Sexual Harassment Attorney

If you or a loved one have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, then do not hesitate to contact Dolman Law Group about receiving a free consultation on your claim. Our Skilled lawyers have the expertise you will need to secure the settlement you deserve whether its sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or child sexual abuse.

Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900