What Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Looks Like

What Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Looks Like

To discuss what sexual harassment in the workplace looks like, we first need to define what it is.

According to the California Attorney General, “sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment this way:

“Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.”

It can be intentional unwanted touching, including brushing against someone else’s body. It can also be inappropriate sexually oriented gestures, comments, jokes, or noises.

Criminal physical assaults like rape and molestation, as well as attempts to commit these assaults, also are sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Doesn’t Have to be “Sexual”

Equal Rights Advocates further clarifies that “sexual harassment does not have to be ‘sexual.’ It can also look like teasing, intimidating or offensive comments based on stereotypes (e.g., about how certain people ‘are’ or should act), or bullying someone or a group of people based on their sex, gender identity (man, woman, trans, intersex, nonbinary) or sexual orientation (queer, straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, two-spirit etc.).”

The U.S. EEOC acknowledges that not all simple teasing, offhand comments, or non-serious isolated incidents should be construed as sexual harassment. But when the behavior is frequent or so severe that the workplace is perceived as a hostile or offensive environment, then it does become sexual harassment.

Perception is What Counts

In determining if actions are sexual harassment or not, it’s the perception of the person being harassed that matters. If they think the behavior is offensive and/or it is something they don’t want, then it doesn’t matter what the person doing the harassment thinks (for example, if they think it’s harmless).

Employers Are Accountable

It’s against the law for employers to allow workplace sexual harassment to occur and/or fail to stop it once they know it’s happening. In California, businesses with five or more employees must conduct a mandatory Sexual Harassment and Abusive Conduct Prevention Training every two years.

ES Legal Inc. provides this training, and it can be held virtually or on-site.

If an employee makes a complaint of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace, it needs to be investigated to ensure legal compliance. ES Legal Inc. can help with these workplace investigations, too.

Get Help Understanding Workplace Sexual Harassment

It’s important to take your responsibilities regarding sexual harassment in the workplace seriously. And most people find it helpful to have an HR Consultant/Lawyer on their side to help them navigate all the legalities.

We can help you, too.

Contact us today for a free consultation and get help understanding workplace sexual harassment as well as your legal responsibilities as an employer.