What counts as sexual harassment at work?

Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a problem in the workplace for decades and it has been reported that a third of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace at some point.

But with the rise of more and more people sharing their stories on social media, sexual harassment is finally getting the attention it deserves.

And while some companies have taken initiatives and campaigns to prevent and combat sexual harassment, many companies don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment, so they don’t report the harassment.

Sometimes offenders display this inappropriate behavior in more subtle forms and in different ways.

To help you determine whether your rights have been violated, we’ll discuss the legal definition of sexual harassment at work, its types and examples.

What is Sexual Harassment at Work?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as any unwelcome sexual promotions, requests for sexual favors or other conduct of a sexual nature that makes an employee feel uncomfortable, harassed, humiliated or offended.

Such inappropriate behavior and conduct creates a work environment that is hostile and unsafe for employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act recognizes sexual harassment at work as illegal, which applies to government agencies, labor organizations and private employers with 15 or more employees.

According to this law, there are two types of sexual harassment at work:

  • Hostile work environment – This type of sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to a severe and pervasive unwanted physical or verbal form of sexual harassment. The level of these violations is so bad that even one incident is enough to change the employee’s working conditions or create a violent environment.
  • Quid pro quo harassment – Counter-sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor, manager, or other authority figure solicits sexual favors or other sexual conduct in exchange for benefits or promotions.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment at work comes in different shapes or forms. Some behaviors are obvious in nature, while other forms of sexual harassment are subtle.

Below are the main types of sex crimes and some of their examples:

Physical forms

Any form of physical contact without a valid non-sexual reason and which makes another employee feel uncomfortable, intimidated or humiliated may be considered sexual harassment. For instance:

  • Touching intentionally
  • massage
  • caress
  • To rub
  • pinch
  • cuddle
  • to kiss
  • Violating someone’s personal space by getting too close
  • Assault or rape

Verbal forms

Sexual violence in the workplace is not limited to inappropriate physical contact. It also includes verbal forms of harassment spoken out loud, either directly to an employee, near or about them.

This inappropriate behavior often includes unwanted comments with a sexual overtone, including:

  • Sexual comments or jokes about an employee’s appearance or clothing
  • Questions about sexual fantasies, preferences or history
  • allusions
  • Abusive language or swearing
  • Whistle or whistle
  • Spreading lies about someone’s sex life
  • Making inappropriate sounds, such as kissing with smacking lips
  • Verbal attacks with threatening, discriminatory or degrading words
  • Embarrassing someone in front of other people

Visual or non-verbal forms

Visual or non-verbal gestures and behaviors can also cross the line into illegal sexual harassment. They can be considered sexual in nature when the action makes a coworker uncomfortable.

Some examples of these forms of sexual harassment include:

  • staring at someone for too long
  • Looking up a person from head to toe
  • Follow the person
  • Block their path
  • Making inappropriate facial expressions, such as winking, licking lips, or kissing
  • Making sexual gestures by hand gestures or body movements
  • Send sexual messages, videos or other content
  • Exposing genitals in front of a person
  • Touching oneself suggestively in front of a person


Sexual harassment at work is considered illegal and a serious violation of the law. If you believe you have been sexually harassed at work, there are steps you can take to protect your rights and interests.

You can report the incident to management or authorities and ask that something be done to stop it.

If the employer is held liable for negligence and damage caused by the sexual harassment, you may also be eligible for compensation.

When dealing with any form of sexual harassment, it is best to consult and hire an experienced and competent sexual harassment attorney. They can help you make claims, demand appropriate action to resolve the issue and achieve the best outcome to protect your rights.

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