What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2020
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Harassment exists in many forms and can occur in almost any situation. Workplace sexual harassment is inappropriate conduct that occurs in an occupational setting. While this type of harassment is often sexual in nature, it does not have to be. It can include offensive conduct with regard to gender. Examples of behaviors that may fall into this category include unwanted touching, explicit emails, or male chauvinism.

Workplace sexual harassment is a social issue that includes a broad range of actions. There are so many behaviors that can fall into this category that individuals are often trained how to avoid being perpetrators and how to handle such problems when they arise. The problem is so prevalent that it is a crime in many jurisdictions, and employers in those jurisdictions often have policies more stringent than those outlined by the law.

A problem with workplace sexual harassment, however, is that because it covers such a broad range of behaviors, laws and policies are commonly not specific enough. This often leads to confusion and debate regarding whether particular actions are actually harassment. It is commonly held that any unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature or regarding a person’s gender may qualify. This includes posting obscene pictures in a person’s workspace, brushing against a person in a sexual or suggestive manner, or making degrading comments about a particular sex.


There are several things that people commonly fail to realize about workplace sexual harassment. For example, many people tend to associate this type of behavior with a male offender and a female victim. In reality, anyone can fill either role. Sexual harassment in the workplace can even occur among the same sex.

It is also important to understand that perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment do not have to be employed by the company that employs the victim. A cashier can be harassed by a regular customer, or a warehouse employee could be harassed by delivery drivers. If the employer of the victim does not take action despite awareness of such issues, in many jurisdictions the employer could be held liable.

Furthermore, individuals are often unaware that they may be victims even if inappropriate conduct is not directed at them. A person who witnesses behavior that falls into this category and is adversely affected can be considered a victim. For example, a co-worker may make offensive same-sex jokes to John, who is a homosexual. John may brush these off, but Greg, who is also a homosexual, may overhear these jokes and feel victimized.



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