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Examples of sexual harassment in the workplace you need to identify


This guide outlines the key examples of sexual harassment you need to identify and deal with. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, you have the power to end any examples of sexual harassment in your workplace. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to determine whether a certain behavior counts as sexual harassment or not.

But at what point does a somewhat inappropriate conversation or behavior cross the border into examples of sexual harassment? Where exactly do you draw the line? Today, we’re going to help you clear up this confusion once and for all. The following is a complete guide that teaches you all about the different examples of sexual harassment. It provides definitions and case studies of each type as well as what you can do to stop them.

Examples of sexual harassment: the 2 main categories

Learn all you need to know about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace by reading this guide.

1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Legally, there are really only two categories of workplace sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo literally translates to “this for that.” In other words, it’s a bargain in which one thing is bartered for another. In the case of quid pro quo examples of sexual harassment, it means that something is being bartered in exchange for sexual favors.

The most common example is a boss offering to promote an employee if the employee has sex with him/her. However, if it’s the subordinate employee who offers sex in order to receive a promotion, it’s not necessarily illegal. Though it’s still a very bad idea. And any decent workplace has bylaws against this, anyway.

On the other hand, if a boss offers job perks as a means to pressure an employee or potential employee into sex, that’s harassment. It’s also harassment if a boss threatens to penalize an employee for refusing sex. If this has happened to you, you should definitely get the company’s human resources department involved. Speak to a sexual harassment attorney as well.

2. Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

Hostile work environment examples of sexual harassment don’t involve any rewards or penalties. This type of harassment is characterized by relentless/unwelcome sexual advances by a coworker or superior. The constant pressure makes the work environment very difficult and stressful for the victim. However, people are often confused as to the difference between this type of examples of sexual harassment and affective communication by way of flirting . Mostly, it’s a matter of whether or not the behavior is accepted by the receiving party.

For example, two coworkers may enjoy exchanging suggestive inuendos with one another. If the flirting is mutual and it doesn’t make the other workers uncomfortable, this isn’t hostile to anyone. But if the behavior continues even after it is met with protest, that’s one of the examples of sexual harassment. There is no excuse for this. You should definitely take action against the offender if this has happened at your workplace.

Both of these sexual harassment categories can happen in many different ways. The remaining points on this list are examples of how they might happen.

Other examples of sexual harassment to be aware of

3. Inappropriate Touching

What’s the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching of another employee? Again, it’s mostly a matter of consent. For instance, a handshake or a pat on the shoulder is generally considered acceptable. However, some employees don’t like to be touched at all and they make this known to all their coworkers. If you know this about the employee, yet you proceed to pat them on the shoulder anyway, it’s inappropriate. This is unwelcome physical contact and, therefore, one of the examples of sexual harassment.

Similarly, there may be specific people that an employee doesn’t want touching them. For example, an employee might instruct her ex-boyfriend not to touch her at work. Even if she’s okay with hugs and handshakes from other employees, it would be harassment if her ex tries to hug her. Alternatively, there are many other types of physical contact that are inherently sexual. Examples include the grabbing or groping of breasts, buttocks, or genatalia. No matter who’s doing this or who they are touching, such behaviors are inappropriate in the workplace, period.

4. Sexual Requests/Comments

Most of the time, sexual advances are in verbal form. This includes blatant requests for sexual actions as well as sexually suggestive inuendos. Now, a single such comment doesn’t imply harassment. This could fall into the category of joking or flirting. But if the behavior is protested and still continues, then it counts as examples of sexual harassment.

5. Inappropriately Sexual Conversation Topics

Perhaps two coworkers are mutually engaged in a conversation about the pornographic websites they visit. It’s obvious that these two don’t mind discussing the topic. But a nearby coworker might ask them to change the topic because they are uncomfortable with the conversation. If the conversation continues anyway, that’s another of the examples of sexual harassment.

6. Obscene Gestures

Sexually inappropriate behavior can also happen without words or touching. For example, an employee might make gestures that reference masturbation or oral sex. As with the other points, it’s harassment if the behavior continues after being protested.

7. Messages/Emails with Sexual Content

Lastly, the same is true of sexually suggestive comments in text messages, emails, or written notes. Also, sexually explicit/pornographic images sent to a coworker without their consent are examples of sexual harassment.

How to end it

The are 4 steps to ending workplace examples of sexual harassment. And all 4 involve a verbal confrontation.

Before anything else, confront the offender directly. Tell them that their behavior is offending you, specify the offending behaviors, and ask the offender to stop. If you don’t, they can legitimately say that they didn’t know it was a problem. If the behavior still continues, explain the situation to the offender’s superior. Get human resources involved, too. If none of this solves the issue, get legal help.

Never tolerate it

Based on this list, do you feel that you’ve been harassed or witnessed harassment at your workplace? If so, you have a responsibility to do something about it.

Bring the matter to the attention of your employer, human resources department, and/or sexual harassment attorney. And, furthermore, never allow or enable any types of sexual harassment, period. Want to learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace? For related reading, you can check this post on sexual harassment complete guide.

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