Sexual Harassment

Definition

The term sexual harassment refers to unwelcomed advances, requests for favors, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that affects work performance or creates an offensive work environment.  In addition to creating a hostile work environment, sexual harassment may involve blackmail, bribes, threats, or promises tied to an expectation the employee will submit to the demands of a manager or supervisor.

Explanation

Sexual harassment can consist of blackmail or sexual bribes (threats or promises) in addition to a hostile work environment which may include unwanted sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other forms of verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with the individual's work performance or creates an intimidating or hostile working environment.

Sexual harassment laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  In its guidelines, the EEOC has defined sexual harassment as:

"Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome."

Example

The following types of sexual harassment are typically prohibited in the workplace:

  • Inappropriate touching or gestures
  • Posting of sexually-oriented pictures or images
  • Conversations concerning another employee's sexual activity
  • Written or verbal references to sexual conduct
  • Sending sexually offensive e-mails, voicemails or instant messages

Related Terms

hostile work environment, diversity, corporate culture, interpersonal skills, employee engagement, glass ceiling