What Qualifies as Workplace Sexual Harassment?

What Qualifies as Workplace Sexual Harassment?

June, 2021

When people think of sexual harassment in the workplace, they may first think of obvious forms of this type of behavior, such as inappropriate touching. Today, sexual harassment is often much more subtle, which is one reason so many people fail to report it. Many employees feel as though actions they are subjected to are inappropriate, but they do not know if it rises to the level of sexual harassment. It is important that all employees feel safe and comfortable when they go to work, and so, it is critical to understand what qualifies as workplace sexual harassment.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines two types of sexual harassment that occur in the workplace. These are as follows:

  • Quid pro quo: Quid pro quo harassment refers to any time someone in a position of authority offers an employee something of value in exchange for a sexual act. For example, a supervisor may offer one of their workers a promotion if the employee agrees to sleep with them or go out on a date with them.
  • Hostile work environment: Sexual harassment is sometimes so severe that it creates an abusive work environment, or negatively impacts the working conditions of the employee.

Even when sexual harassment takes one of the two above forms, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint whether a certain action qualifies as sexual harassment in the workplace. This is particularly true when the harassment falls under the category of hostile work environment.

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Some types of sexual harassment in the workplace are obvious, such as slapping someone on their behind or otherwise touching them without their consent. Other times though, it is much more subtle. Some examples of sexual harassment that are not as obvious are as follows:

  • Comments about the appearance of an employee, particularly if they are repeated regularly
  • Talking about a person’s sex life in the presence of other employees
  • Asking a worker about their sex life
  • Distributing sexually explicit photos and forcing workers to look at them, such as women in bikinis or men with their shirts off
  • Making jokes of a sexual nature
  • Sending emails or text messages that are sexual in nature
  • Giving workers gifts that are romantic or sexual in nature
  • Spreading rumors about an employee’s sex life
  • Unwanted touching, such as placing a hand on an employee’s back, especially when the behavior happens on a regular basis

When the courts consider whether a hostile work environment was created, they will not only take the feelings of the person subjected to it into consideration, but also how another reasonable person would feel. For example, if one employee told a coworker they liked their outfit one day, that employee may feel offended, but another person likely would not. That would not mean the action would rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. The action must also occur on a regular basis and not just a one-time event.

Our Ohio Employment Lawyers Can Help You Make Things Right

Sexual harassment in the workplace too often goes unreported. If you feel as though you have been a victim of it, our Columbus employment lawyers at Marshall & Forman, LLC, are here to help you make it right. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.