Sexual Harassment Terms are important to understand. Some type of situation may have come up in the workplace and now you are searching for what to do. If you are looking for sexual harassment terms and definitions you are in the right place. Here is our complete glossary of terms and definition to help answer your questions.  

What is Sexual Harassment? 

  • Unwelcome sexual advances 
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is sexual nature occurring in the workplace. 

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and violates both Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as well as State discrimination laws.

EEOC Guidelines  – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

What Is Sexual Harassment Retaliation?

This is taking or threatening to take an unfavorable action against an individual, or withholding or threatening to withhold a favorable action that could discourage a reasonable employee from making or supporting a charge of harassment or discrimination. Retaliation can include any negative job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment. Reference 


Attitudes and beliefs that one gender is superior to another.

Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination is when some action is taken and deprives someone of a right due to sex. 

Does Sexual Harassment Have To Be Sexual In Nature?

According to the EEOC: 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.

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Gender Harassment

Gender harassment is the non-sexual act of harassing or repeatedly troubling or otherwise persecuting an individual because of his or her gender. Harassment based on gender alone can include:

  • Gender-based comments that would belittle a person
  • Offensive remarks
  • Physical assault such actions
  • Sexist slurs
  • Obscene humor towards sex or anything gender-related
  • Degrading anecdotes
  • Gender-derogatory nicknames
  • Demeaning or insulting conduct that conveys negative attitudes about a particular gender or transgendered person
  • Displays of any kind that are gender degrading

Does Sexual Harassment Violate The Law?

In most modern legal contexts, sexual harassment is illegal. Laws surrounding sexual harassment generally do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents—that is due to the fact that they do not impose a “general civility code.”[4] In the workplace, harassment may be considered illegal when it is frequent or severe thereby creating a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim’s demotion, firing or quitting). The legal and social understanding of sexual harassment, however, varies by culture.

According to Wikipedia definition

Bystander Intervention:

This is an approach to sexual violence prevention. This is someone who is a bystander or witness of a harassment situation. The bystander may or may not intervene.

Sexual Violence:

Physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or when a person is incapable of giving consent. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence:

  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Abuse
  • Coercion

Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment.

What Should An Employer Do To Combat Sexual Harassment?

It is the employer’s responsibility to maintain an environment at the workplace that is free of sexual harassment. Anti-Sexual Harassment Training has been the number one way to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Some states are now requiring training to be provided to all employees and other states who have not yet mandated this training will most likely follow suit in the future. We recommend that all companies both large and small provide sexual harassment prevention training to help combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

What Behaviors Constitute Sexual Harassment?

Some workplace sexual harassment behaviors are more obvious:

  • Kissing that is unwanted
  • touching someone sexually (Private areas such as breast or genitals)
  • Cornering someone
  • Asking for sexual favors
  • Sexual comments
  • Unwanted messages
  • Unwanted touching like a massage
  • Catcalls
  • Ogling
  • Butt slapping
  • Rape

Some less known form of behavior of sexual harassment are:

  • Repeated sexual jokes
  • Sexually suggestive texts or messages
  • Unwanted gives that are sexual in nature or romantic
  • Sending nude photos in the workplace of another employee
  • Asking an employee or coworker about sex life
  • Talking about sex life
  • Commenting on the attractiveness of someone at work to other employees
  • Repeated compliments about someone’s appearance
  • spreading sexual rumors in the workplace about a coworker

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment – State-Specific?


Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Briefly, sexual harassment refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex. Under California law, the offensive conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire, but may be based upon an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender-identity, actual or perceived sexual orientation, and/or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser and actions that subject co-workers to a hostile work environment. Reference


Sexual harassment is considered a form of gender discrimination because it is harassing conduct that occurs because of an individual’s gender. Gender discrimination in all its forms, including sexual harassment, is prohibited by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment claims are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). New York State’s Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law also prohibit sexual harassment and reach much smaller employers than the Civil Rights Act. In 2010, 11,717 sexual harassment claims were filed with the EEOC across the country. Reference


You have a right to be free of sexual harassment in the workplace, housing, educational, or business environment. Sexual harassment is unwanted, deliberate, or repeated sexual behavior.

It can include the display of sexually suggestive objects, signs, magazines, or pictures, or the sending of sexually suggestive emails or text messages to persons who do not want this attention.

Additionally, sexual harassment can also be a subtle or direct requirement that a sexual or social relationship is part of your job, your housing, or your educational performance. For example, making any part of your job (such as wages, promotions, references or working conditions), any part of your housing (such as your rent, your security deposit or lease renewal), or any part of your educational performance (such as grades, honors, course work, or scholarships) contingent on submission to the sexual behavior. Reference


Sexual Harassment means any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when 1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individuals employment, 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or 3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individuals work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. References


Unwelcome sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates the Maine Human Rights Act. Unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that threatens job security, working conditions, or advancement opportunities are considered sexual harassment. References


Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act (DDEA). It applies to employers with 4 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Reference

What is Verbal Harassment?

Verbal sexual harassment refers to any behaviors that are said out loud either to a person directly, near them, or about them. Some examples fo this is:

  • Kissing sounds
  • Howling or smacking lips
  • Unwanted sexual comments, jokes, or remarks.
  • Sexual references
  • Whistling sexually at someone
  • Talking about sex topics at the workplace
  • Sexual stories
  • Asking about sexual information
  • Sharing rumors of a persons sex life


What is visual harassment?

Visual sexual harassment is what is seem like it is. This is a violation sexually of someone’s sense of sight. This can be in the form of exposed body parts or privates. Some other examples include:

  • Sexual type emails, letters, texts
  • Gestures or looks that are sexual in nature
  • Sexual screen savers on work computers
  • Nude calendars displayed in the workplace


What is physical harassment?

Physical sexual harassment is the act of harassment in a physical format. This includes:

  • Unwanted hugs
  • Kissing
  • Forced touches
  • Actual or attempted rape
  • Pinching
  • Pressuring to meet or go on a date
  • Rubbing against someone
  • Sexual gestures with body movements


What is Quid Pro Quo?

Quid Pro Quo is a phrase in Latin that means  “this for that.” For example, sexual favor for a promotion in the workplace. 

What is a Protected Class:

A group named in law as protected from discrimination. Some protected classes include gender, race, age, and religion.

What is a hostile workplace?

In United States labor law, a hostile work environment exists when one’s behavior within a workplace creates an environment that is difficult or uncomfortable for another person to work in, due to discrimination.[1]

Additional Resource: How to know if you have a hostile work environment?

What is Title 9?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces, among other statutes, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states that:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is defined as distinguishing differences between things or treating someone as inferior based on their race, sex, national origin, age, or other characteristics. 

Who needs to take sexual harassment training?

It is recommended that all companies provide sexual harassment prevention training to their employees. This is to help with a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment situations.

Required Sexual Harassment training:

Third-Party Harassment:

  • When a party or parties not sexually harassed directly but indirectly suffer the consequences of sexual harassment.
  • Also, when a person is not an employee of an organization but may subject an employee to harassment in a work setting (e.g., a client, vendor, customer, visitor); in which case the employer is responsible for stopping and preventing the harassment.

Strict Liability

This is a liability that does not require the employer to be aware of illegal behavior. An employer is strictly liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment by any supervisor, meaning it does not have to be aware of the harassment to have liability, but, under federal law, is not strictly liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment.


The effect or consequence of an action. The impact of the behavior of a sexual nature is more important than the person’s intentions in determining sexual harassment.

Additional Resources

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: What You Need to Know

Workplace Sexual Harassment Examples and How to Prevent Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Online

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