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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Disclaimer: This article is based on the information from the video, Sexual Harassment Made Simple.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is illegal and not tolerated. Even though this is widely known throughout corporate America and all over the world, sexual harassment in the workplace is still a problem. All too often, people undergo the stress of dealing with someone’s harassment because they don’t know how to report the problem. Another fear is that they will get fired or exiled by other co-workers. Regardless of the worry, it is always recommended to report such problems as soon as they happen in order to avoid escalating any further trouble.

It’s estimated that fifty percent of women and twenty percent of men have experienced sexual harassment at work. Although sexual harassment is more often aimed towards women, men have been victimized as well. Sexual Harassment can inflict serious damage on an organization’s productivity and morale. The victim is constantly distracted by the fear of another encounter with their attacker. Therefore, the quality of work may diminish putting other workers at risk of losing their jobs. An individual named in a Sexual Harassment complaint could lose their job, their reputation and even their career.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Definitions 

Legal Dictionary states the sexual harassment definition as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment. According to the Unites States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Regardless of the form of sexual harassment, it is illegal to purposefully harass someone at work in order to gain any type of sexual favor. Many cases are often never reported because of fear of embarrassment or termination.

There are two types of sexual harassment, Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment. Quid Pro Quo Harassment occurs when a manager or supervisor withholds or awards job benefits on the basis of sexual favors. This includes work assignments, hiring, termination, promotions or demotions, positive or negative reviews, or any other job related benefit. If any sort of reward is being withheld because the victim refuses to engage in the sexual favor, then the company is guilty of sexual harassment. This is a practice that is all too common in the work place, but the risk of losing a job these days isn’t something that most people can afford. With the unemployment rate sitting steadily at around 7.4 percent, many people simply can’t afford to lose their jobs. This is why so many people keep quiet and remain victimized at work

Hostile Environment Harassment happens when the mal-conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance. Ultimately, this behavior creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Hostile environment sexual harassment can occur between employees of the same sex, between employees of a different sex and between employees of any rank or position in the organization. As long as one person is being aggressive towards another person, then hostile environment harassment has occurred. It can lead the victim towards depression and anxiety every day that they go to work. It greatly affects their performance at work which can be viewed by other managers and executives as a lack of intelligence.

Courts enforce the “Reasonable Person Standard” in matters of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. It determines sexual harassment to being an act here the victim is a reasonable person and finds the behavior offensive. The fact is that most sexual behaviors when they are continuous and unwanted meet this standard. In order to avoid being accused of sexual harassment, these behaviors need to be avoided entirely. This is a major point to remember about sexual harassment. The line between playing and harassment is so thin that it’s recommended to stay away from any type of behavior that can be confused as harassment.

Other factors that can create a hostile work environment are harassing jokes and comments. Many times, this behavior can affect other people, not just the person making the complaint. Everyone comes from a different background. That’s why all employees should remember to keep a common code of ethics at the work place in order to avoid any comments or actions that may be seen as offensive by someone. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is not limited to just co-workers. Harassment can also occur with individuals not directly employed by an organization. Individuals such as contractors, consultants, delivery persons, vendors and even customers can be involved in sexual harassment. In such cases, a victim may not know where to report the problem. But it is always recommended to report to the Human Resources department if there is any confusion. This way, the problem can be centralized and the required response steps can be taken adequately.

The problem often doesn’t stop within the walls of the work environment. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace can occur anywhere that an employee represents their organization. This includes work parties, dinner with clients, conferences, trade shows, sales calls and charity event. That’s why a code of work ethics should be held by all employees. Any behavior that can lead to sexual harassment can trigger an unwanted predator. Unacceptable behaviors that can lead to sexual harassment include unwanted flirting, consistent requests for dates, suggestive whistling, leering and cat calls. Long stares and sexually suggestive looks can also be considered a form of sexual harassment. It’s difficult to know how another person will react to flirtatious behavior.

It’s also considered inappropriate in the work force to use crude or offensive language or making derogatory comments about a person’s sexual orientation. A person’s sexual business outside of work should stay there. A feminine make or a masculine female shouldn’t have to worry about going to work to be harassed. Making jokes or comments about a person’s physical attributes or inappropriate remarks or even jokes about a woman’s pregnancy can be considered grounds for sexual harassment.

Other forms of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace are:

  • Physical behaviors such as shoulder massage, back scratching or hugging are also considered sexual harassment. This form of harassment often comes unexpectedly and with confidence. But if the person being touched didn’t ask to be touched, then this is considered as sexual harassment.
  • Gossiping or spreading rumors about sexual topics or engaging in sexual conversations that are overheard by others can be problematic. The person in the cubicle next door may become seriously offended if co-workers are speaking loudly about private sexual matters. If they are subjected to this for long enough, then they can file a complaint of sexual harassment.
  • The use of demeaning or offensive names such as honey, sweetie, hottie, baby, girl, boy or hunk cannot be allowed at work. These names may be appropriate in personal relationships. But at work, they are absolutely inappropriate. It neglects the professional environment and forces a person to be called a derogatory name.
  • Viewing or posting of sexual pictures, magazines, posters, videos or images is offensive and considered sexual harassment. An employee can seriously tarnish their reputation by engaging in such acts. The internet is a free environment where information can be broadcasted globally and on multiple platforms.
  • Sending sexually explicit emails, viewing sexually based websites and the use of social networking sites for sexually based messages or pictures. Once this material is created, it is permanently stored in a database. The evidence becomes concrete and can be used at any time to against the harasser.
  • Offensive gender-based comments or behaviors that denigrate people simply because of their gender such as, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen, not the boardroom.” These days, this sort of talk has no place in the work environment. Women’s efforts in the workplace are just as important as a man’s.
  • Texting or sexting sexually explicit messages or pictures via your cell phone should also be avoided.

The consequences of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace vary in many different ways, but ultimately they are all negative. Sexual harassment can result in disciplinary actions including written warnings, suspension, demotion and even termination. It’s also illegal to retaliate for a sexual harassment complaint. This can also lead to disciplinary actions up to and including termination. Human behavior varies among individuals. That’s why companies ought to screen their employees before hiring in order to make sure they are obtaining an employee who is capable of behaving decently. If an employee is willing to get fired because of a sexual urge or impulse, then this person obviously wasn’t screened accordingly.


There are three key measures that can be used to prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. The first is to leave sexually-based behaviors at the door. People are impulsive by nature, but they must remember to adapt to a work environment code of ethics. This means to forget whatever standards they live by at home and adopt the work ethic while at the office. The second is to treat everyone with respect. By understanding this concepts, people can accept that they don’t have to like each other, but they do have to respect each other. The third is to speak up when you see harassment occur. Regardless of the outcome, the victim is better off having said something to report the incident. Once this information is put in a file, it can be used for later disciplinary action if the problem continues.

Studies show that simply asking the harasser to stop will end the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 90% of the time. If a person is made aware of their offensive behavior, it’s likely that they will take appropriate actions to avoid any further trouble. However, if the employee is not comfortable confronting the harasser or if the harassing behavior continues, a manager should be informed immediately. Delaying this can seriously affect the victims’ case against the harasser. If the harassment is Quid Pro Quo, or is physically aggressive or threatening in nature, it should be reported immediately to management or human resources. Every employee deserves a safe and comfortable environment to work. A workplace free of sexual harassment and fear and full of respect.


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