What Is Sexual Harassment and How Does It Affect Your Workplace?

The EEOC has defined Sexual Harassment as “unlawful employment discrimination” per Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964. The EEOC goes on to further describe the behavior that constitutes sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s 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 unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” (Noe 2011 p.78)

Using this definition, the EEOC has identified two forms of sexual harassment, the first being quid pro quo harassment. This form of sexual harassment tends to be the more direct and unethical form of sexual harassment in today’s workplace. Quid pro quo harassment is usually apparent when a manager or supervisor engages an employee and promises employment related benefits (such as compensation) to engage in sexual activity with the employee, or could threaten the employee (i.e demotion) if the sexual advance is refused. Quid pro quo harassment can lead to what the EEOC has also defined as a hostile working environment.

A hostile working environment is probably the most pervasive form of harassment found in today’s workplace. Hostile working environments can arise from the unwelcomed sexual advances or sexual comments of one employee on another, regardless of gender. The harassment can be direct or indirect, such as posting pictures sexual in nature around the workplace, or telling a sexual joke. The common factor in most hostile working environments is that the behaviors of one or more employees whether direct or indirect interferes with the work performance of another employee.

Companies today must address these forms of harassment as quickly and efficiently as possible, which can also includes preventive measures such as educating employees on the different forms of harassment and the resources they have available to them if they encounter harassment in the workplace.

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