Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when a coworker says or does something sexual that makes you uncomfortable. It can range from making upsetting comments to demanding sexual favors. Sexual harassment is more than just rude and unprofessional. It’s also against the law.

Two types of harassment

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment falls into 2 types. These are:

  • Hostile environment. This is when a coworker offends others with sexual comments. It also includes sexually aggressive actions. A few examples are things like cornering a coworker, making catcalls, displaying pornographic materials, or unwanted touching. In general, more than one instance is needed for this to be considered harassment.

  • Quid pro quo (this-for-that). This is when a boss offers a job, promotion, or other perks and wants sexual favors in return. One time is enough for legal action.

Recognizing sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is sometimes an abuse of power. Or it may happen because of poor social skills. But it doesn’t matter why it happens. It also doesn’t matter where it happens. It's never OK, even if it occurs offsite or after hours. The types of sexual harassment to look out for are:

  • Verbal. This is something that is said. It could be pressuring someone to go on a date. Or it could be talking about a person’s sexual orientation. It also includes making jokes based on gender. An example is a joke linking someone’s actions with PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or the male hormone testosterone. Catcalls and whistles are part of this group.

  • Visual. This is something that is seen. It may be having suggestive items in the workplace. This could be showing suggestive pictures on a calendar, poster, or computer screen. Making sexual gestures and leering are also included.

  • Physical. This is an invasion of someone's personal space. Unwanted touching is one example. So are cornering, leaning over, or brushing against a coworker. Sexual assault and rape are in this group.

Next steps

If you feel comfortable, tell the person who is harassing you to stop.

Check to see if your company has an anti-harassment policy and follow the steps in the policy. This may be posted on a company website. Or talk with your supervisor, leadership, or human resources department.

For more information, go to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity website at

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