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Clarifying how sexual harassment occurs in the workplace

Posted on June 22, 2017 | Firm News,Sexual Harassment

Last time, our blog discussed how even though we would like to think otherwise, an astounding number of workers in this nation are subjected to sexual harassment by co-workers, supervisors and even clients. Indeed, one survey found one in three working women between 18-34 have been sexually harassed at some point.

Given this lamentable state of affairs, we began providing legal background to employees in recognition that empowerment often accompanies the acquisition of knowledge. Having established some basic facts and successfully debunked some of the myths concerning sexual harassment, today’s post will explore the two forms of sexual harassment.

Hostile work environment

This form of sexual harassment occurs if co-workers, supervisors or clients make unwelcome remarks and/or take unwelcome actions of a sexual nature, and this conduct serves to either:

  • Unreasonably interfere with the victim’s work performance; or
  • Create a hostile or offensive work environment for the victim

Indeed, a person can experience sexual harassment even if the remarks or actions aren’t aimed directly at them.

Quid pro quo

This form of sexual harassment occurs when someone — typically a supervisor or manager — requires an employee to submit to sexual advances or other sexually based conduct in order to secure a promotion, job or other form of work-related benefits.

It’s important to note that the law dictates sexual harassment must be pervasive or severe in order to be considered illegal. In other words, it must be serious enough to alter employment conditions or create abusive working conditions. This doesn’t mean, however, that there must be several instances of harassment, rather a single act can be sufficiently severe.

As to the types of behaviors that more than likely constitute sexual harassment under either of the aforementioned category, they include:

  • Making obscene gestures, leering and displaying sexually suggestive materials (objects, pictures, etc.)
  • Offering employment benefits conditioned on sexual favors
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Demeaning jokes, slurs or comments
  • Degrading and graphic invitations or messages
  • Unwelcome touching or blocking movements

We’ll examine more about this important topic in a future post, examining the civil remedies available to affected employees.

In the meantime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have been victimized by sexual harassment and need to learn more about your options for pursuing justice.