Four Behaviors You Think Aren’t Sexual Harassment – But Really Are
Sexual harassment is frequently difficult to assess because it can arise from behaviors that are generally considered harmless. The problem is, that does not alleviate the discomfort of the victim and many employees, especially those in marginalized groups, feel they must tolerate it to keep a job or simply fit in.
But if allegedly “normal” practices leave you in a place where you dread going to work and face substantial stress, that is not acceptable. In fact, it is illegal and you may be entitled compensation. Here are common behaviors that are generally not considered sexual harassment but still fall into that spectrum.
Many employees avoid complaints because they do not want to be labeled hypersensitive or a workplace troublemaker. However, if you experience any of the following you may have a valid sexual harassment claim.
- Comments on Physical Appearance
Although “compliments” about physical appearance or dress may be seem harmless to some, such comments are inappropriate for the workplace. Even if others consider a comment a compliment, these statements may constitute sexual harassment, especially if made on a regular basis or made by your supervisor.
- Insisting on a Date
Persistence in the dating arena may be rewarded in the movies, but not the workplace. Once you say “no” to an offer of a date, you have the right to be free of such requests in your workplace – whether or not such requests are made in a “friendly” manner. Similarly, you have the right to change your mind after beginning a romantic or sexual relationship with a boss or co-worker without being threatened, bullied or harassed for further contact.
Romantic or sexual overtures, whether or not accompanied by overt threats of retaliation, can constitute sexual harassment. These actions or remarks can constitute sexual harassment even if no romantic or sexual contact ever occurs.
- Remarks Regarding Gender or Sexual Orientation
Workplaces are becoming more diverse, including diversity of sexuality, sexual identity/orientation, and gender identity. There is no doubt that LGBTQ individuals are increasingly able to work freely and openly without fear of discrimination.
Unfortunately, freedom for LGBTQ individuals may convince certain co-workers that they are entitled to ask inappropriate questions about sexual orientation or gender. All employees have a right to work in peace without co-workers asking intimate or personal questions, especially in an embarrassing or inappropriate manner.
- Violating Personal Space
Sexual harassment is not limited to remarks. Sitting or standing too close, cornering a coworker in a cubicle or small space, and unwelcome touch are not acceptable behaviors. A common complaint here is the unsolicited back rub. While you may hear excuses similar to “oh, he’s just like that,” or “she just likes you,” no employee is required to tolerate any unwelcome or threatening physical behavior or touching.
When to Call an Attorney
Trust your instincts. If the words or actions of your co-workers or supervisors – in the workplace or at work-related events – leave you with feelings of discomfort, guilt, anxiety or depression, or affect your productivity or ability to come to work, you may be facing discrimination or harassment.