Verbal sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that can create a toxic and hostile environment for employees. This type of harassment includes unwelcome comments, jokes or gestures of a sexual nature.
It undermines the dignity and self-esteem of the victim while also potentially affecting their professional performance and psychological well-being. Understanding the nuances of this problem is crucial for all employees.
Understanding verbal sexual harassment
Verbal sexual harassment often starts subtly but can escalate, affecting a victim’s mental health and job performance. It ranges from seemingly “harmless” jokes to overtly offensive comments. The critical factor is these comments or jokes are unwelcome and inappropriate in a professional setting. They can come from supervisors, colleagues, clients and customers.
Some common examples include:
- Sexually suggestive comments: Remarks about an individual’s appearance, clothing or body parts that are sexual in nature
- Innuendos and jokes: Jokes with sexual content or double entendres that imply something sexual
- Sexual propositions: Direct or indirect suggestions for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits or to avoid negative consequences
- Unwanted personal questions: Inappropriate questions about one’s sexual life or preferences
Recognizing these behaviors is the first step in addressing and preventing verbal sexual harassment. These actions can create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Comprehensive reporting policies
The process for handling complaints of verbal sexual harassment must be clear and straightforward. Once a complaint is made, it should trigger a confidential and impartial investigation. Ideally, the complainant and the alleged harasser should be separated without punishing either party until the investigation is complete.
Employers must ensure that complainants and witnesses are protected from retaliation. Retaliation is unlawful and discourages victims from coming forward. This includes actions like terminating, decreasing pay or making working conditions unfavorable for an employee who makes a factual complaint.
Verbal sexual harassment mustn’t ever be allowed in the workplace. Employees who are subjected to this type of behavior have specific legal rights. Those who are concerned that their situation is not being addressed effectively internally may benefit from seeking legal guidance accordingly.