Sexual harassment was once hidden and sometimes accepted form of discrimination. But due to a number of high-profile cases coming to light over the past few years and the recent #MeToo movement, victims of sexual harassment have found a voice. Because of these enlightening events, most of us are now aware that this form of harassment is as prevalent as it is offensive, and that we no longer must put up with it in silence. Laws have been passed all over the country, prohibiting such behavior both inside and outside of the workplace. However, you may still find yourself wondering if a particular action falls under the umbrella of sexual harassment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines it simply as the harassment of someone based on that person’s sex. This can be in the form of direct sexual suggestions and advances or less direct, electronic forms of communication like texts or emails. When it comes down to it, there are more forms of sexual harassment than you might realize. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of some of the more common and less well-known forms of sexual harassment.
Quid Pro Quo
This type of harassment generally occurs in the workplace. It is where someone in power – a supervisor, manager, or owner – in an organization sexually propositions a lower-ranking employee. The proposition involves offering that employee some sort of compensation, such as job advancement or a salary increase, in return for sexual favors. Note that this form of harassment can also happen in other environments – such as with a teacher and student or a coach and athlete. These are all scenarios where one person in a relationship has authority or power over the other. This position of power enables the abuser to manipulate and control the behavior of the person in a position of lesser power. If the person of power in the duo offers any type of promotion or advancement in exchange for sexual favors, they are guilty of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile Work Environment
Sexual harassment can be “loud” or “quiet.” In other words, sometimes the harassment strictly happens behind closed doors and not in front of the world or the entire office. But then, there are some who are more overt in their harassment. And when this happens within the workplace, it can contribute to an overall work environment that is quite hostile towards one or more employees. Some examples of behavior that could contribute to a hostile work environment include:
- Making “catcalls” or lewd sounds as employees pass by;
- Using terms like “baby” or “sexy” when referring to someone;
- Asking someone about their fantasies or sex life;
- Unwanted physical contact (hugs, hand on employee’s back, etc.);
- Inappropriate jokes whether verbal, written, or in the form of a posted image;
- Complimenting an employee’s appearance repeatedly;
- Unwanted gifts that are of a romantic or sexual nature;
- Sexual gestures; and
- Gossiping about someone’s sex life.
Even behavior when off-duty can contribute to a hostile work environment. For instance, if a supervisor propositions you at a company happy hour or Christmas party, this can still constitute harassment. This is true particularly if the behavior affects your subsequent relationship while at work.
Non-Direct Sexual Harassment
Typically, sexual harassment is directed at a specific individual. However, harassment can be more general in nature. For example, if a specific individual is targeted, there can be secondary victims involved. This is especially true when non-direct harassment creates a hostile work environment. For instance, if one employee experiences trauma because they witness another being sexually harassed, it can be said that the witness is a secondary victim. Another example might be an office where offensive, “dirty” jokes are told on a regular basis, or where office walls or screensavers are covered with nude pictures. This would all be considered non-direct sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment by Customer or Clients
Most people are aware that, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employees are protected against sexual harassment by their coworkers. However, what most employers and business owners don’t realize is that Title VII gives the employer the responsibility to protect their employees, not only from other employees but from customers and clients as well. Basically, if the employer becomes aware of any sexual harassment against an employee from a person outside of the company, they must take action to stop the harassment.
Other Sexual Harassment Items to Note
Some forms of sexual harassment are not as obvious as others. Here are some examples of more subtle or indirect forms of abuse.
Harassment between persons of equal power. Earlier, we listed “quid pro quo” sexual harassment that involves someone of a higher status offering to trade benefits for sexual favors. But sexual harassment can also happen between two people of equal status such as one student to another, or one executive towards another.
Harassment against a group. Sexual harassment can occur when an individual or group actively persecutes another individual or group, based on that group or person’s sexual identity or orientation.
Harassment knows no relationship boundaries. You can be sexually harassed by a stranger, a friend, or even someone with whom you share an intimate relationship.
Sexual harassment is not gender-specific. While the most common form of sexual harassment is between people of the opposite sex, this type of harassment truly knows no gender. Someone can be sexually harassed by someone of the same sex or by someone who identifies with any sexual orientation. Sexual harassment is illegal between all groups no matter their sexual orientation or sexual identity.
Sexism is a form of sexual harassment. There is a misconception that, in order to be sexual harassment, it must be sexual in nature. However, sexism is also made illegal under Title VII. This includes things like sexist comments and other pervasive sexist behavior that creates an abusive work environment based on gender stereotypes. An example might be where a female is mocked or taunted because she refuses to wear make-up to work.
Eliminating Harassment in Maryland
The attorneys at the Smithey Law Group LLC want to help provide a stress-free work environment for every employee and employer in Maryland. We are dedicated to helping employers promote harassment-free workplaces, and to assist victims of abuse and employers after it has happened. Call today or contact us online to tell us how we can help.