How to Deal with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

According to McKinsey’s 2018 study, 35% of all women have experienced a form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

It’s an unfortunate fact that the perpetrators of sexual harassment often go unpunished. This is because the victim often feels intimidated by the harasser and powerless to stop it.

workplace sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is also insidious. The harasser often begins harassing the victim slowly, but the abuse becomes more blatant and aggressive by increments.

Eventually, sexual harassment becomes a vicious cycle – the longer the harassment continues, the less likely it is to be reported by the victim. This is because the victim fears retaliation from the harasser.

Everyone should know how to deal with this difficult situation in the workplace. By recognizing the signs and taking action, you can put a stop to this unacceptable behavior.  

What Qualifies as Sexual Harassment?

Unwanted sexual advances, physical touching, and requests for sexual favors are the more obvious forms of sexual harassment, but it can take many forms.

Sexual harassment includes verbal, physical, and visual harassment – but it can also be based on childbirth, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and other (usually female) bodily functions.

Sexual harassers can be employers, coworkers, supervisors, and people outside the workplace. If an employer knows (or should have known) that sexual harassment is being perpetrated, they must take appropriate and immediate corrective action to protect the victim. If your employer refuses to take disciplinary action or retaliates, contact a Phoenix employment lawyer immediately.

Generally, the most common forms of sexual harassment fall into two categories: quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

When conditions are placed on an employee’s benefits that involve unwanted sexual advances – whether expressed overtly or implicitly – this falls into the category of quid pro quo harassment.

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “something for something.” For instance, offers of career advancement or raises that are subject to sexual favors fall into this category.

Hostile Environment Harassment

When a victim of sexual harassment’s working environment becomes abusive or hostile as a direct result of the harassment taking place, it falls under hostile work environment harassment.

This form of sexual harassment is so pervasive and severe that even an outsider would recognize the situation as abusive and hostile.

So, now that you know what sexual harassment is, let’s explore what it isn’t.

What is not Considered Sexual Harassment?

Verbal, infrequent, and nonchalant comments of a sexual nature in the workplace may not be severe or pervasive enough to prosecute because they do not meet the legal requirements.

Trivial and singular behavior – such as one off-hand remark or sexual joke – is not enough on its own to be considered illegal conduct.

When to Speak Up

Bantering, socializing, and joking are normal activities in any workplace. However, if the way someone speaks or behaves makes you feel violated or uncomfortable – particularly if the remark or action is aimed at you – you should speak up. You are within your rights to address the issue, explain it is unacceptable, and demand they stop.

Usually, addressing the remark or action by telling the person that it makes you feel uncomfortable and asking them to stop is enough. However, if it continues, you can take it further by reporting it to your supervisor and the human resources department.

If your supervisor and human resources don’t take action, you must report it to senior management. Your employer is legally obligated to investigate your complaint. If your employer refuses to take corrective action and retaliates against you, contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your rights and options.

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