What qualifies as sexual harassment at work?

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation that violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, unwelcome touching, sexist or sexual remarks or jokes, and/or other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature, that directly or indirectly affect the victim negatively at work. In order for the behavior to qualify as harassment, it should affect an individual’s employment, interfere with their work performance or ability to succeed, or create a hostile or intimidating work environment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can occur with coworkers, supervisors, managers and non-employees such as clients, customers or vendors. Unlawful sexual harassment does not have to cause the victim to lose their job or suffer economic injury. The victim does not necessarily have to be the person being directly harassed but can be anyone who is affected negatively by the harassment. The harasser does not have to be the opposite sex as the victim, and can be woman or man.

Other examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • Lewd, sexual or sexist posters or images in the workplace
  • Lewd, sexual or sexist jokes or remarks
  • Suggestive notes, letters or emails
  • Unwelcome touchingInappropriate sexual gestures
  • Whistling or staring in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Sharing sexual stories, movies or images (such as pornography) with coworkers
  • Making inappropriate comments or asking offensive questions about someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual history

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