Back to News

Overt vs. Subtle Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment in a Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem within America’s workplaces; and it is completely illegal. There are forms of inappropriate behavior like unwelcome sexual advances and unwanted physical touching that are overt forms of sexual harassment, but there are also more subtle forms of sexual harassment like sexually suggestive gestures, comments about sexual orientation, sexual jokes, or offhand comments or lewd text messages that also fall under the category.

A person does not have to suffer rape of physical harassment to make a sexual harassment claim.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as:

“unlawful harass[ment of] a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.”

Furthermore, off color jokes are also looped into the sexual harassment category when those jokes are made so frequently that it creates a hostile work environment.

The Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace sexual harassment of all employees. If you think you or someone you know was sexually harassed – for example, if they experienced an incident where their boss says they will fire them if they reject a sexual advance – that is considered harassment. It also creates a hostile work environment, even if the behaviors are isolated incidents or happen in other forms, described in more detail below.

Which of the Following is an Overt Form of Sexual Harassment?

There are times when sexual harassment can be very nuanced and there are other instances where it is hard to tell what type of behavior is considered sexual harassment.

OVERT Forms of Sexual Harassment Include:

Unwanted Touching – this includes giving someone a neck massage while at their desk, snapping a female worker’s bra strap in the office, rubbing another coworker’s limbs or body parts.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment – this is when the harasser promises a perk or benefit to the victim for enduring unwanted sexual advances.

Sexual Favors – this could happen between business partners, a boss and employee, or between coworkers. It is when someone asks for a sexual favor to be performed.

Unwanted Kissing – this is when someone in the workplace tries to initiate a kiss or unwelcome advance toward someone who is not receptive.

SUBTLE Forms of Sexual Harassment Include

Sex Discrimination – perhaps an employer passes someone over for a promotion because of their gender or sex. This could be an example of sex discrimination.

Comments to a Coworker about His or Her Sex Life – while it may seem innocuous, private questions can create an abusive work environment if the person being questioned feels uncomfortable.

Gender Stereotypes – sometimes employers make different types of comments to an employee that may reinforce gender stereotypes that do not reflect the truth of the workplace. Pervasive stereotypes to an employee could be labeled as behavior that is inappropriate.

Sexist Comments – similar to the above, wherein comments are made that suggest “members of one sex are less able or intelligent than the members of the other sex. Or it may refer to one sex’s bodies, behavior, or feelings in a negative way.”

What To Do About Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment should never occur in the workplace. Any type of behavior that could be construed as sexual harassment should be reported to a human resources representative if the victim feels comfortable enough to do so.

If the victim experiences behavior that could be considered sexual harassment and does not feel comfortable to report the behavior (because they fear they could lose their job if they come forward), it is still important to document the behavior they endured so they have a personal record of the date, time, and incident. Then, contacting a sexual harassment lawyer is the next best choice. The attorneys at Lawyers for Justice, PC are very skilled in all areas of employment law and can help victims of abuse in the workplace seek the justice they are owed.

Understanding Consent

Consent is an important factor to consider when it comes to mistreatment of a sexual nature in the workplace. While a relationship that forms between two consenting adults in the workplace can happen, both parties must be accepting of each others’ feelings. Furthermore, even when there is consent, inappropriate touching or romantic behaviors should be reserved for times outside of the workplace to avoid confusion. Those romantic behaviors could also make some employees feel uncomfortable.

What is the Difference Between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault?

Sexual harassment is a broad term that encompasses various types of unwanted verbal and physical sexual interactions. However, sexual assault is when there is physical sexual contact which occurs without the victim’s consent.

Where Can Sexual Harassment Occur?

Unwanted sexual attention can occur anywhere, but in terms of workplace behaviors, the attention may happen specifically in break rooms, office common areas, private offices or conference rooms, or at a California workers’ desk.

These sexual behaviors can happen to employees who work in school environments, like high schools or universities and can occur at any time during the work week.

Call the attorneys at Lawyers for Justice, PC for more information and details so they can help you understand if you might have a sexual harassment lawsuit. Call 818-647-9323.