What is Sexual Harassment?

We all know the term and we even hear the term thrown around facetiously from time to time.  But the entire working spectrum from owners to management to employees needs to understand what sexual harassment is and why it’s a problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

This definition seems to draw a fine line that, hopefully, none of us have to worry about crossing. But, there are a few misconceptions that don’t make the matter as black and white as it may initially sound.  A few rules that we should all know about are:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be either a woman or a man.
  • The victim of sexual harassment does not have to be of the opposite sex of the harasser.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone adversely affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome in order to constitute sexual harassment.

To prepare you and your organization proactively, make sure that you have clearly stated your policies on sexual harassment in the workplace.  Overstate it if you have to, just make sure to cover all the angles.

Don’t know if you’ve covered it all or if you need to be more specific? HRInsights can help… join our webinar to find out if you have everything in your sexual harassment policy that you need.


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