What Type of Behavior Is Considered Sexual Harassment at Work (And What to Do About It)

No one should feel unsafe at work, and sexual harassment has no place in a professional setting. But how do you differentiate sexual harassment from simple teasing or isolated incidents? 

While it’s unlawful to harass someone with unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments, or demand sexual favors for promotion, any repetitive or uninvited sexually suggestive behavior can create a hostile and unsafe work environment. 

It’s essential to learn what types of behaviors are considered sexual harassment at work so that you can take appropriate steps to get help.

We’ll use this guide to help give clear examples of sexual harassment and how it may appear within the workplace.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Any uninvited behavior targeted toward an individual in a sexually suggestive way can be considered sexual harassment. Unfortunately, anyone can experience sexual harassment, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or race. 

While it can be outright with catcalling on the street, it can also be slightly more nuanced, especially in many professional settings. It might appear as repetitive suggestive late-night images or texts, unwanted sexual comments, or even dates disguised as meetings.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Even though the typical tactics aren’t as common in the workplace, other sinister and equally unsettling instances can occur. If either a superior or another employee engages in inappropriate and unwanted sexual behavior towards another employee, it’s considered sexual harassment.

Repeated verbal or physical harassment can do severe damage to an individual’s mental health and self-worth and have other harmful side effects. For this reason, any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace should be swiftly dealt with, including pursuing legal action against the perpetrators for causing you pain and suffering. 

Then again, there is still severe underreporting of sexual harassment and assault. One potential reason is that many employees aren’t sure if they have a valid sexual harassment claim because behaviors weren’t clear. Use the guide below to help distinguish the different types of sexual harassment at work.

Types of Behavior Considered Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment can be very nuanced, especially within the workplace, leaving victims unsure if certain behaviors apply. There are both overt and covert types of behaviors that often occur at work. Take a look at some examples of these behaviors below:

Overt Sexual Harassment 

These behaviors are usually explicit and involve any unwanted sexually motivated behavior, including:

  • Making sexually explicit statements
  • Touching breasts or genitals
  • Unwanted kissing
  • Butt slapping
  • Rape 
  • Request for sexual favors
  • Massages
  • Catcalls
  • Unlawful confinement
  • Sexually suggestive behaviors
  • And more

Covert Sexual Harassment 

These actions can be more subtle forms of harassment, and sadly, they are on the rise. Any of the behaviors listed below can be considered sexual harassment if they are repetitive, cause fear or intimidation, make someone feel uncomfortable, or create a hostile work environment:

  • Asking about someone’s sex life
  • Discussing one’s sex life in front of others
  • Making sexually-suggestive jokes
  • Sending inappropriate texts, emails, messages, or pictures
  • Repetitive, unwanted touching
  • Threatening a lower-level employee to perform sexual favors to avoid job loss
  • Offering a promotion or pay raise for sexual favors
  • Reaching out inappropriately via a dating app
  • Repetitive comments about one’s appearance
  • Unwanted romantic gifts
  • And more

Understanding Consent

Consent requires an evident “yes” and enthusiastic participation by both parties throughout an entire intimate experience. Therefore, many situations of sexual harassment or assault occur when someone feels pressured into an unwanted situation. 

If you didn’t enthusiastically engage because you felt pressured or fearful of saying no, that is not consent. Whenever you felt like saying no was not an option due to fear of retaliation or job loss, you were unable to consent. This can even carry over into grey areas, like dating apps. 

Millions of people across the country use popular dating apps, like Hinge, Tinder, Bumble, and more. While there isn’t any harm in coworkers dating or showing interest in one another, it can become an issue if that attraction is one-sided, from a superior to a lower-level employee, or seems inappropriate. 

If you’ve experienced sexual harassment or any other type of workplace discrimination, it’s time to take action for the sake of your mental, emotional, and physical health.

You’re Not Alone

When sexual harassment or assault occurs at work, victims may feel isolated or unsure of what to do about it. First of all, please remember that this was not your fault, and you are not alone. Secondly, you must seek an experienced sexual harassment and assault attorney to help you navigate this overwhelming time. They will help you develop a plan of action for seeking justice.

Remember, even if it’s scary or painful to report the abuse you endured, you have every right to seek legal support. At MSB Employment Justice, we understand the severity and magnitude of sexual harassment and assault cases. This is why we work tirelessly as your legal advocate to make sure you don’t have to go through this process alone. 

Even though it may be scary to step forward, you are well within your rights to file a complaint at work and hold your employer accountable. Under the Civil Rights Act, Title VII makes workplace sexual harassment illegal; therefore, any behavior that creates a hostile work environment or includes quid-pro-quo harassment is not tolerated. If you suffered any of these egregious behaviors in the workplace, you are federally protected to pursue justice.

Seek Out an Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorney 

If you’re facing sexual harassment at work, the attorneys at MSB Employment Justice are here to help support you through this challenging time. We’ll act as your advocate while seeking justice against the individual or individuals who hurt you, ensuring that you don’t have to go through this alone. 

Since every instance of sexual harassment and assault is different, our team will craft an effective legal strategy tailored to your specific circumstances and needs. We’ll fight our best to hold those who hurt you responsible for their heinous and indefensible actions.

The time for action is now. Contact MSB today to get the justice you deserve. 

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Bree Johnson

Bree Johnson

After more than a decade in the legal industry and BigLaw firms, attorney and activist Bree Johnson saw an opportunity to do more for employees who are mistreated in the workplace with a career move to representing employees and plaintiffs. See Full Bio

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