Employers and employees alike know that sexual harassment in the workplace is never okay. However, not everyone understands sexual harassment until they hear a few sexual harassment examples. 

As of 2020, six states require sexual harassment prevention training in the workplace. These numbers may rise in the coming years. Next are the States with Requirements:

Training your employees on sexual harassment prevention is a great way to make your workplace comfortable and safe. It also lessens your chances of going to court for workplace sexual harassment claims.

In 2019, there were over 12,000 sexual harassment claims filed in the US with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alone. 

As part of our online sexual harassment prevention training, we think it’s imperative to go over sexual harassment examples. That way, we can discuss how to avoid them. Read on for more information.

How Is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Defined?

The US Office of Civil Rights notes that sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in all of the United States. Your state may not require sexual harassment prevention training. However, you will still face a legal battle if someone in your employment faces sexual harassment.

What, exactly, constitutes sexual harassment?

Broadly, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for favors of a sexual nature. This includes any verbal or physical conduct deemed sexual.

It is especially a problem in the workplace under two conditions.

The first is that this sexual conduct affected an individual’s status within the workplace. In other words, their compliance or rejection of sexual advances determined their position, salary, performance review, and so forth.

The second is that this sexual conduct affected an individual’s ability to perform their job. Sexual harassment creates hostility, intimidation, and even abuse in the workplace. These conditions can make it very difficult for the individual to stay focused or feel safe at work. 

Sexual Harassment Examples

This definition of sexual harassment may seem black and white upon first glance. The truth is that many people responsible for sexual harassment do not understand the inappropriateness of their behavior. Ultimately, they don’t understand the impact it has on others. 

We will look at a variety of sexual harassment examples. This includes blatant scenarios and scenarios that may seem “harmless.”

It’s important to note that these behaviors don’t have to happen in the workplace to become problematic. Sending notes or making comments to an employee or coworker outside of work may have an impact on workplace relationships and comfort levels. 

Scenario 1

Employer 1 is in charge of giving employees raises and promotions. Employee A is up for a promotion and has completed all necessary tasks to receive it. 

Before granting the promotion, Employer 1 makes their sexual and romantic interest in Employee A clear. Employee A informs them that the feeling is not mutual. They would prefer to keep the relationship professional.

Shortly thereafter, Employee A learns that they have not received their promotion. It has been given to someone who is less qualified.

In Scenario 1, Employer 1 put Employee A in a compromising position. Their advances appear to be an ultimatum:

“Pursue the relationship or lose the promotion”

Because Employee A did not appreciate these advances, they were not given the promotion they deserved.

This is a classic example of Quid Pro Quo

Scenario 2

Employee A calls Employee B over to look at a video online. The video is pornographic and Employee B is very uncomfortable. Employee B reports this video to Employer 1, who isn’t sure what to do.

Employee A did not necessarily suggest that Employee B should engage in sexual activities. However, this is still sexual harassment.

Pornographic materials of any kind are not appropriate in the workplace under any circumstance. The presence of this content creates an uncomfortable and hostile environment for Employee B.

Scenario 3

Employee A informs Employee B of a recent sexual encounter. They include lewd details and sexual gestures in their story.

Employee A then asks Employee B about their own sexual history. They even tell Employee B to “lighten up” when Employee B asks them to change the subject.

In this scenario, every aspect of Employee A’s behavior counts as sexual harassment. Once again, the fact that Employee A was not suggesting sexual contact between themselves and Employee B does not alleviate the situation.

Instead, the issue is that they are bringing unwelcomed discussions of sexuality into the workplace. They also made sexual gestures and pushed Employee B to share personal information of a sexual nature.

Scenario 4

Employer 1 is conducting an interview with Applicant A. After asking a series of questions about the job, Employer 1 asks about Applicant A’s sexual identity. “It won’t change anything about your qualifications,” Employer 1 states, adding that they “just want to know.”

It may seem that because Employer 1 is not determining the outcome for Applicant A on their sexual identity. So this does not count as sexual harassment.

However, revealing information about sexual identity (and gender identity) is at the discretion of every applicant and employee. Inquiring about such information is putting people in a position of potentially outing themselves before they are ready.

Scenario 5

Employer 1 often shakes hands or high-fives male employees throughout the workday. However, Employer 1 is often seen hugging female employees and rubbing their backs.

Oftentimes, Employer 1 ignores social cues indicating that female employees do not wish to be hugged. Employer 1 has even said, “Give me a hug,” on multiple occasions. 

Scenarios like this one may seem murky but there are two important factors at play here. The first is that Employer 1 treats male employees differently. He offers them social gestures and greetings that are more workplace-appropriate.

The second is that some of the female employees have expressed discomfort when Employer 1 touches them in this manner. 

Unwanted touching of any kind, especially when it is targeted in such a way, is sexual harassment.

There is also the added issue that Employer 1 is in a position of power. This makes it harder for female employees to put a stop to the behavior. They may fear negative repercussions if they say no and feel they have no one to report this behavior to. 

How to Avoid Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Now that we’ve looked at five different examples of sexual harassment, it is clear that a variety of behaviors fall under this umbrella. It may seem like a lot to tackle, but with a few simple steps, you can avoid all of these scenarios and more.

Make Information About Sexual Harassment Accessible

Provide everyone with sexual harassment prevention training. Then, make sure your employees have easy access to information about sexual harassment. The more they see what counts, the more they will remember to examine their own behaviors.

Start by hanging up our free sexual harassment prevention posters around the office in conspicuous places. This makes it easy for everyone to refresh their understanding of the subject before problems arise.

Provide an Outlet to Report Problems

In Scenario 5, we mentioned that the employees affected by Employer 1’s behavior may not know who to turn to. They may worry that other higher-ups will excuse the behavior. They may also fear that sharing this information personally will put them at some level of risk. 

Provide a whistleblower channel that allows members of your workplace to report issues related to sexual harassment and more in confidence. Not only does this create security for those who have something to report but it eliminates the issue of not knowing who to turn to with a problem.

Put a Stop to All Sexual Behaviors and Comments

As an employer, it is your job to set the precedent for a sexual harassment-free workplace.

That means that when you hear inappropriate comments you must put a stop to it right away. As well as any or see inappropriate gestures. Don’t speculate whether or not the incident was “intentional” or “targeted.” If it’s sexual in nature, it doesn’t belong at work.

When everyone in your workplace understands that they should not discuss sex, sexuality, or physical appearance, the number of sexual harassment incidences will go down drastically.

Educate Your Team on Sexual Harassment Prevention

If there’s one thing that sexual harassment examples make clear, it’s that we may not always realize how our behavior affects other people. However, in cases of sexual harassment, the intention is not nearly as important as the action. 

That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive program that can educate your team and provide outlets to cut back on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Try it out and see what you think!

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