Sexual Harassment at Work – What Behavior Is Not Acceptable

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Sexual harassment at work is something that happens even as you are reading these lines. According to a study by the EEOC, more than 75% of people who have experienced sexual harassment at work never reported it to their employer, manager, or union representative. The biggest reason for that is because they are scared that the reaction will be terrible. Another reason for the small number of reports is because employees are not entirely sure what behaviors are considered sexual harassment.

Today sexual harassment can be quite subtle. You will not get a sex invitation or expect your boss to touch parts of your body. Victims can get text messages with sexually-charged content, nude pictures, late-night texts, or calls for meetings that can turn into a date.

If you’re dealing with sexual harassment at work, contact a North Carolina sexual harassment lawyer right away.

What is Sexual Harassment at Work?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, workplace sexual harassment is illegal. Title VII applies to employers who have fifteen or more employees. There are two types of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo harassment– It happens when a supervisor requests sexual favors or other sexual behavior that results in a tangible job action. For example, your supervisor can offer you a promotion in exchange for intercourse. Or, your supervisor can threaten to fire you unless you agree to go out with them.
  • Hostile work environment – This is the case when an employee is subjected to unwelcome physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature. It can be severe or pervasive as to alter the employee’s working conditions or create an abusive work environment.

The first type is quite straightforward, but the second type is not so easy for detection.

What is Inappropriate Conduct?

Inappropriate conduct at the workplace considered as sexual harassment includes:

  • touching of genitals or breasts
  • butt slapping
  • rape
  • unwanted kissing
  • catcalling and ogling
  • cornering a person in a small space
  • receiving texts or e-mails with sexual content or nude pictures.

There are forms of sexual harassment at work that are more subtle, therefore, more difficult to be defined as such.

  • asking an employee about their sex life
  • constant compliments of an employee about their look
  • sharing nude photos of men or women in the workplace
  • sexual jokes
  • sending sexually suggestive messages or e-mails
  • spreading sexual rumors about an employee
  • constant unwanted touching (hand on the back or any other part of the body) and hugging.

The work environment can be considered hostile if the behavior is offensive not only to the employee but to another person who might find themselves in the same circumstances. Let’s say a female employee got a compliment on her clothes from a male coworker or supervisor. This will not be considered sexual harassment by most people.

If a woman works as an assistant and her boss continually asks her to join him for drinks after work, so they relax a bit while still working on the current tasks. At the bar, the conversation becomes personal, as the boss asks his assistant about her love and sexual life. The behavior does not include any unwanted touches, but the boss continues to make advances such as sending the assistant late-night texts (telling her he liked what she wore at work and that he cannot stop thinking about her). He is clearly showing signs that he is into her even at work (stopping at her desk, sharing personal stories about his love life, etc.). For most people, this is sexual harassment.

What You Need to Know About Sexual Harassment

  • Sexist comments and actions – Sexual harassment is not always an unwanted touch. It can be sexist comments or actions (offensive conduct based on an employee’s gender). Sexist comments can create an abusive work environment. Remember, it is illegal. A sexist comment and action are when your supervisor tells you to look more “girly” or not being invited to a meeting because you are a woman. Being sabotaged by male coworkers is also sexism and harassment.
  • Clients can do sexual harassment – Under Title VII, the employer should protect the employees from sexual harassment that can come from clients or business partners.
  • Sexual harassment can happen to both men and women – even though traditionally, it is considered as something that happens mostly to women. A male can do it to male as well as female to female. Not every harassment is done because of sexual desire.

If you face sexual harassment at work, call our North Carolina personal injury law office and let our attorneys help you.

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