What is sexual harassment?

The law prohibits two types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  1. “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment is when a term or condition of employment is contingent on acceptance of unwelcome sexual behavior.

  2. “Hostile work environment” sexual harassment is when unwelcome sexual behavior (of any kind) that creates an abusive working environment.

So, what does this really mean and look like in real life? Here are some examples.

  • Requests for sexual favors, especially if a condition for employment
    • "Casting couch" - slang for trading sexual favors for career advancement (the term originated in the entertainment industry)
    • "I will give you a raise if you go on a date with me."
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
    • Either about sex or directed at you because of your sex
  • Inappropriate touching
    • Breasts, buttocks, crotch, hips, thighs, hair, waist, lower back, face, etc.
  • Inappropriate sexual "jokes," stories, or crude remarks
  • Inappropriate gestures
    • Licking lips, looking someone up and down, grinding hips, etc.

What if I was sexually harassed only once?

According to employment laws, sexual harassment must either be severe or pervasive. It does not have to be both.

Severe sexual harassment includes rape, attempted rape, and other violent sexual assault. It also includes “quid pro quo.” A single incident of severe sexual harassment can be illegal.

Pervasive sexual harassment is frequent or persists over a period of time. Persistent comments, advances and/or touching can add up to sexual harassment if the incidents negatively alter the conditions of your employment and create an abusive working environment. Generally speaking, a single comment, advance, or touch may not be considered sexual harassment under the law. Especially if it stopped immediately when you said no.

Who can the harasser be?

A sexual harasser can literally be anyone at or affiliated with your workplace. This could be your direct supervisor, a supervisor in another department, a co-worker, or even a client, a customer, a vendor, or a contractor. The gender of the harasser does not matter. Harassment is harassment.