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What actions may constitute sexual harassment?

No concise definition of sexual harassment encompasses everything that it can be, as a wide variety of actions fall under this umbrella term. No two cases are exactly alike. Different actions can play a role or be interpreted differently depending on those involved.

For instance, in one case, a co-worker may ask another worker out repeatedly, despite getting turned down. While that first invitation for a romantic relationship may have been fine and within bounds, the repetition and consistency could make the second worker feel uncomfortable, as if they are getting harassed every time they go to work.

In another situation, a supervisor may demand a sexual relationship with someone working under them, with the threat of firing them if they refuse. Even if it only happens once, that's instantly sexual harassment. The two situations appear somewhat similar -- one worker wanting a relationship of some type with another -- but they are different in key ways that impact how they get defined.

With that in mind, here are a few potential examples of sexual harassment:

  • Making sexual demands
  • Asking for sexual favors
  • Threatening to negatively impact an employee's position -- changing hours, reducing pay, terminating the employee, etc. -- when these requests get denied
  • Initiating unwanted physical contact
  • Making repeated unwanted advances
  • Making sexual jokes or other comments and remarks
  • Stating insults about a person's body, sexual orientation, sexual history or anything else
  • Showing explicit material in the workplace

Even within these examples, you can find a lot of differences. No matter how events occur, when they cross the line, they infringe on a worker's rights.

For instance, hanging up explicit material in the workplace cannot be allowed, as it may make workers feel uncomfortable, offended or like they have a hostile work environment. A worker could also break this rule by texting explicit material directly to another worker, or by sending it to them via email or social media.

The same is true for sexual jokes, unwanted advancements and much more. In fact, the rise of the internet has so drastically changed the way people communicate that many cases begin there. Workers who would never say or do anything offensive in person may feel more empowered to do so from behind a keyboard.

Those who find themselves facing this type of harassment should know what legal steps to take. They also want to take care to document as much as possible about what happened. For instance, they should save and print out copies of email messages, text messages, social media posts and the like. These cases often involve two people claiming to have interpreted things a different way, and having hard evidence can show what really took place.

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It can be hard to take the first steps in these cases when your livelihood is at stake, but know that you have rights available to you. Let us help you determine what you can do to bring an end to your employer's unlawful behavior.