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What is Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Employees of companies that employ 15 or more workers are entitled to certain legal protections, including protection against gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment. Most states also have anti-harassment laws intended to cover employees of smaller companies as well. This article is intended to help victims of sexual harassment in the workplace decide whether or not to take legal action and seek monetary compensation in civil court.

Offensive Conduct

Sexual harassment is defined as any kind of unwelcome sexual advance or inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature. This includes gender-based comments and actions; however, not all offensive conduct is considered sexual harassment under current state and federal laws. In order to prove that an employee has experienced sexual harassment, it must be proven that the perpetrator acted or spoke in a way that would be considered offensive to any reasonable person.

Severe or Pervasive Conduct

In addition to meeting the above definition, a perpetrator’s conduct must also be “severe or pervasive” in order to be considered sexual harassment. This usually means that such conduct is on-going, frequent, or widespread. However, particularly egregious incidents can be considered sexual harassment even if they only occur once.

Work Environment

In some cases, the environment itself may be cause for filing a sexual harassment suit. For example, a workplace that features vulgar posters or cartoons, is replete with inappropriate comments about female workers, sexual innuendos, and dirty jokes, or condones conduct like nudity and simulation of sex acts may be considered a “hostile environment” under anti-harassment laws.

Harassment by Coworkers

Most cases of sexual harassment occur between a supervisor and a subordinate. In these cases, the employer is typically held liable regardless of whether or not he or she had knowledge of the incident. However, in cases where one employee is harassed by another, the plaintiff must prove that the employer failed to take action despite being notified about the incident and being given the opportunity to address it before he or she can be held liable.

Get Help Now

Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace should always report the incidents to their superiors. In the event that no action is taken as a result, or that the perpetrator is the superior him or herself, victims should not hesitate to consult a Sexual Harassment Attorney.