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What Is Sexual Harassment?

June 9th, 2016

What-Is-Sexual-HarassmentSexual harassment can take many forms. While everyone has their own standards as to what they consider offensive, a general guideline is that if it makes you uncomfortable, it’s harassment. Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, perpetrated by members of either sex. Sexual harassment can occur via multiple incidents or one significant incident.

Examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwanted advances or requests for sexual acts
  • Unwanted intentional touching, even of a non-sexual area (shoulder, hand, etc.)
  • Jokes or discussion of a sexual nature
  • Displaying images of a sexual or graphic nature, such as through email or on a desktop or screensaver

Actions do not have to be directed at you personally for them to be considered sexual harassment. For example, if you hear two co-workers making a sexual comment about another woman in the office – or women in general – that could constitute sexual harassment. This applies regardless of your gender.

The effects of sexual harassment can be wide-ranging. One of the most common is a lack of willingness to engage the harasser in work-related activities, as an attempt to reduce the chance of experiencing future incidents. Stress and anxiety also are common symptoms. These may impact your health and your job performance and should be dealt with immediately.

If you believe you are being sexually harassed, do not confront your harasser. Go to a supervisor or human resources personnel to try and resolve the matter. Even if you judge that the action wasn’t “serious,” and you don’t plan on litigation, it can still be useful to let the proper parties know that you wish for the incidents to stop.

Don’t be a harasser yourself

It can be easy to let your private lifestyle bleed over to your actions in the office, especially when you think of your coworkers as friends rather than fellow employees. Risqué speech, such as dirty jokes, which you might consider normal in a group of close friends in your home might not be appropriate at the workplace.

It is generally best to avoid such topics altogether. Even if you think you’re among a group of like-minded individuals, you never know who might be listening. You also should avoid making remarks of an overtly sexual nature through email or other written communication, even if you’re not directing them at the individual(s) with whom you’re communicating. While you may be smart enough not to hit “Reply All,” your recipient still can share the information. Such conversations also are likely to be saved and can be brought up as evidence in a harassment complaint.

The Pennsylvania employment attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson have decades of experience in handling workplace legal matters. If you have concerns about sexual harassment or other employment issues, contact us at 800-631-1233.

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