Sexual Harassment

Is it sexual harassment if a co-worker makes frequent comments about what you’re wearing? Rubs your shoulders when passing your seat? Asks you out on a date, despite your repeated refusals?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual or gender-based nature severe enough to interfere with your ability to do your job. Although we often think of men as the “harassers” and women as the “victims,” women can harass men, men can harass men, and women can harass women.

There are two types of harassment in the workplace. “Quid pro quo” harassment occurs when job benefits are granted or withheld in exchange for sexual favors. For example, a supervisor threatens to terminate, or refuses to promote, an employee who refuses to submit to the supervisor’s sexual advances. “Hostile environment” harassment, which is much more common, is behavior of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or offensive working environment. Examples can include insults, catcalls, staring, sexual posters or calendars, sexist jokes, and physical contact such as frequent touching.

If you are uncomfortable with a co-worker’s behavior, there are several things you can do to address the problem:

  • Describe the behavior to your co-worker, express your discomfort, and ask him or her to stop. If your co-worker doesn’t realize that you are offended, simply speaking up may end the behavior.
  • If the above approach doesn’t work (or if you prefer not to speak to the person), consider telling a supervisor or human resource representative. Human resources will usually investigate the situation and determine if some action should be taken.

  • Talk with close friends whom you respect and trust–they may offer a fresh perspective.
  • Take notes on any incidents for your own records. Also write down what actions you took.
  • Speak with a counselor who can provide support and help you think about how to resolve the situation effectively.

    Everyone has the right to work in an environment free of harassment. If you are upset by a co-worker’s behavior, taking one or more of the above steps can help ensure that your workplace is a safe, comfortable place for you.