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What behaviors qualify as sexual harassment?

Whether you work for a large corporation, a small cupcake shop or a mid-sized real estate business, you have the right to do your job in an atmosphere that is safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a common problem in many industries, and one that does not discriminate between men and women.

Even a seemingly minor touch or inappropriate comment can be considered sexual harassment. You should be aware of what to watch for if you feel uncomfortable on the job because of the actions of another person.

Your protection against sexual harassment

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees. Title VII of the Act applies to employers with more than 15 employees, private and public colleges and universities, employment agencies, and select other organizations referenced in the law.

When a person feels he or she is being harassed at work, he or she may choose to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But how do you know when a certain behavior crosses the line?

Common types of sexual harassment

When most people think of harassment, they assume the harassed is female and the harasser is male, but the opposite can also be true — or the harassment can be perpetrated upon a person of the same sex.

Harassment is not limited to supervisors and their subservient employees but may also occur between two employees of the same position and authority at the company. Sexual harassment may include the following:

  • Request for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature that affects your ability to do your job
  • Behavior that creates an offensive, hostile or intimidating work environment

Sharing photos or jokes in the office may seem harmless at first, but if the behavior continues and makes even one other employee feel uncomfortable, there may be grounds for a sexual harassment claim. If you feel you are being harassed, and you are comfortable doing so, you should approach the harasser in person or in writing to let them know their behavior is bothering you.

How can sexual harassment be stopped?

One of the best ways to limit harassment in the workplace is to educate employees from the beginning about what is acceptable at the office and what is not. If employees know right away what is intolerable, they are less likely going to develop those behaviors and make co-workers uncomfortable.

Even if the company you work for has an education program about how to stop harassment, there may still be times when an individual will make you uncomfortable or even unsafe in your workplace. If this is the case, you may benefit from consulting with an attorney before filing a claim.

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