Sexual harassment is a type of harassment in a workplace (or in some other situations) that involves unwanted sexual remarks or even sexual advances. But there’s more to it than that – and if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, you could be entitled to financial compensation.
Sexual Harassment Definition
The definition of sexual harassment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, covers sexual remarks and advances. It also covers offensive remarks about a person’s sex. Generally, sexual harassment involves things like:
- Unwanted sexual remarks
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Visual conduct of a sexual nature
- Physical conduct of a sexual nature
Unwanted Sexual Remarks
Unwanted sexual remarks can be sexual harassment. They don’t have to be directed at you (although they certainly can be). You may overhear them in the workplace, or they may be said about you behind your back. These can include derogatory comments, slurs and jokes, graphic verbal commentaries about your body or someone else’s body, or sexually degrading words. It also includes threatening retaliation for turning down sexual advances.
Unwanted Sexual Advances
When someone makes unwanted sexual advances on you, you are being sexually harassed. This can include verbal conduct, such as requests for sexual favors, as well as physical conduct of a sexual nature (see below).
Visual Conduct of a Sexual Nature
Visual conduct includes leering or making sexual gestures. It also includes displaying sexually suggestive pictures, posters or cartoons, or even sexually suggestive objects.
Physical Conduct of a Sexual Nature
Physical conduct of a sexual nature involves touching, preventing someone from leaving or blocking movements, or assault.
In sexual harassment, the harasser and the victim can be any gender – and the people don’t have to be different genders for the law to apply. For example, a woman making derogatory statements about women can still be considered a sexual harasser under federal law.
The harasser can be a direct supervisor, a supervisor from another area or department, a coworker, or even someone who isn’t an employee, like a customer or client.
What Sexual Harassment Laws Don’t Cover
According to the EEOC, the law doesn’t prevent teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious.
Sexual harassment laws do prevent frequent or severe harassment that creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision.
What Are Adverse Employment Decisions?
An adverse employment decision is something that affects a worker negatively, such as being fired or demoted.
Sexual harassment doesn’t have to result in an adverse employment decision or economic injury to be illegal.
Laws that Create the Sexual Harassment Definition
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines sexual harassment on a federal level. It applies to employers who have 15 or more employees, including federal, state and local governments, as well as to employment agencies and labor organizations.
How Do I Know if I’m Being Sexually Harassed?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if you’re being sexually harassed. However, there are signs of sexual harassment you can watch for, including:
- Sexist behavior
- Continuous and unwelcome flirting
- Bullying using seniority or position
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors (including in person, online and over the phone)
- Sharing personal information you don’t want to know
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About the Definition of Sexual Harassment, or to Get Help?
If you need to talk to an attorney about sexual harassment, we’re here to help. Call us at 818-230-8380 for a free case review. We’ll answer your questions and talk about possible outcomes of your case, as well as give you the legal advice you need.