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What is considered sexual harassment in the workplace?

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Do you know what constitutes sexual harassment? Forbes reports that although 41 percent of women employees annually report that they have been sexually harassed, fewer male workers than ever – only 10 percent – admit that they have deliberately or inadvertently done or said anything that could be considered sexually harassing. For this reason, it is more important than ever that you ensure that your employer takes the time to educate you and your coworkers about what sexual harassment is and how to avoid putting others in a hostile work environment.


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that sexual harassment occurs whenever a worker or potential employer makes unwelcome requests for sexual favors, sexual advances, or says or does other sexually harassing things. This can include making disparaging remarks about your sex. Anyone of either sex or sexual orientation can be guilty of sexually harassing another person, or can be a victim.


Not every off-color remark, episode of teasing and isolated incident is considered sexual harassment. The EEOC states that remarks must be serious, frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment for you. For example, if a coworker repeatedly jokes about your sexual life and you feel uncomfortable around him due to the jokes, it may be considered sexual harassment. Alternatively, if a coworker makes a single joke on a sexual topic, but it is not directed at anyone and does not make you uncomfortable, it may not be harassment.


Some employers do not properly handle instances of sexual harassment. If episodes of sexual harassment result in an adverse employment decision against you, such as a demotion, firing or an employment-harming transfer, your employer could be held legally liable for the damages you have suffered if you were the victim of unwanted sexual attention.