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What is subtle sexual harassment in the workplace?

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2024 | Sexual Harassment At Work

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant issue that can take many forms, some of which are more subtle and harder to identify. Employees must recognize and address these subtle behaviors in order to protect their rights.

With that said, the onus is on an employer to maintain a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. There should be a set way for employees to report issues with sexual harassment. While some people might think only obvious instances should be reported, employees should be empowered to report any issues, regardless of how subtle they are.

Understanding subtle sexual harassment

Subtle sexual harassment refers to actions or comments that may not be explicitly sexual but create an uncomfortable or hostile work environment. These can range from seemingly innocent jokes to invading personal space, which contributes to an atmosphere of intimidation or discomfort. Unlike overt forms of harassment, these subtle cues often go unreported due to uncertainty about their seriousness or fear of retaliation.

Examples and their impact

One common form of subtle harassment is the use of pet names or comments on appearance that aren’t obviously sexual but diminish professionalism and focus on personal attributes rather than job performance. Similarly, sharing inappropriate or suggestive jokes and comments can contribute to a workplace culture that feels hostile or unwelcoming to certain individuals. Another example is non-verbal cues, such as lingering looks, which can make employees feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Addressing the issue

Organizations need to adopt comprehensive policies that cover a wide range of behaviors, including those that might seem minor or inconsequential at first glance. If they don’t, and if they don’t respond to a worker’s complaint sufficiently, they may potentially be held liable for failing to protect that worker’s rights.

When an employee makes a complaint about sexual harassment in any form, an employer must take it seriously. If that doesn’t happen, it’s time for affected employees to seek legal guidance to better understand their rights and options under the law.