Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. If these actions make you uncomfortable, if you have not welcomed or invited them, and if they’re based on sex in one way or another, they may be sexual harassment. If, for example, a coworker or a boss continually asks you out for a date and you decline, it could be sexual harassment if he or she doesn’t stop asking after you have asked them to stop.
Another form of sexual harassment is called a hostile work environment. It does not necessarily involve requests for a relationship or sexual favors, but simply inappropriate comments, jokes, pictures, or touching, or perhaps anything else of a sexual nature that makes it more difficult for you to do your work and that you find disturbing. For example, a hostile work environment could consist of repeated sexual comments to you or jokes to you of a sexual nature you find offensive and do not welcome or participate in.
Sexual harassment can be same‑sex or opposite‑sex.
The bottom line, in any case, is that sexual harassment includes requests for sexual favors or relationships, unwelcome comments, or advances of an offensive nature that are based on sex. These behaviors must be based on sex and must be unwelcome and uninvited by you in order for it to be sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment also must be severe and pervasive enough that it actually interferes with your ability to perform your job in one way or another.
This doesn’t mean it makes you unable to do your work, but it means that the harassment creates distractions disabling you from doing your work effectively. Sexual harassment behaviors may make you reluctant to go to work and may make you want to avoid certain co-workers.
One off‑colored joke does not constitute sexual harassment. It’s just not severe and pervasive enough. However, repeated off‑colored jokes, especially after you make it clear you’re not interested, could.
Certainly one or two unwanted touches, depending on what kind of touch it is, could be severe enough to constitute sexual harassment in and of itself. Anything you perceive to be unwelcome and of a sexual nature, you should make it clear to the person who’s doing it that it’s unwelcome and you want them to stop.
- Do I have a sexual harassment case?
- Do I have a hostile environment case?
- What should I do if I’m being harassed at work?
- If I’m being harassed should I quit my job?
- Do I have to file a complaint with my employer or my HR department first before I can sue for sexual harassment?
- Can I sue for sexual harassment if there were no witnesses?