Breaking Down the Myths: What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

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What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The last thing you expect when going to work is to have to face situations that make you uncomfortable or pose a risk to your safety. Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace is quite prevalent — and sadly, it goes unreported in many instances. 

This silence allows the perpetrator to continue with the unwelcome attitude without fear of consequences. Read on to find out more about myths related to sexual harassment and the types of sexual harassment that are more common these days.

Defining Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment at work includes sexual advances that are not welcome, requests for sexual favors, and any type of conduct of a sexual nature — whether verbal or physical — that implicitly affects a person’s employment. It may go so far as to interfere with the work performance of the individual who is the object of these attitudes, but it may also result in an offensive, hostile, or intimidating work environment.

What Are Some Circumstances Where Sexual Harassment May Occur?

It’s important to understand that sexual harassment at work can happen to any employee — whether male or female — and that the person receiving these unwelcome advances does not have to be of the opposite sex. It tends to present itself in these circumstances:

  • The person engaging in harassing behavior can be the supervisor, agent, manager, employer, or anyone in a position of authority. It can also be a co-worker or someone not employed by the same firm.
  • The harassment not only affects the victim but also others who might find this conduct offensive.
  • The victim may either be intimidated through threats to their paycheck or other earnings or a clear or veiled threat of dismissal from the job.
  • In all cases, the behavior of the harasser must be unwelcome. 

Prevailing Myths Regarding Sexual Harassment

There are some common myths surrounding the subject of sexual harassment. Among them:

Sexual harassment is an issue that only affects women

Sadly, that is not the case. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone.

There is sexual harassment only when touching is involved

There are many ways in which sexual harassment can be present, and these are not limited to physical manifestations. It can also be verbal, like when the victim receives requests for sexual favors or is forced to hear other inappropriate comments.

There is only sexual harassment when it happens between two people of the opposite sex

Sexual harassment is related to the behavior of the harasser, regardless of the sexual identity of the victim. Both can be of the same sex.

If it is a joke, it is not sexual harassment

Any unwelcome comment or behavior is considered to be sexual harassment, even when the person telling it considers their words to be a joke.

If there is only a single incident, it does not constitute sexual harassment

Even a single, isolated incident can be considered sexual harassment if it creates an offensive or hostile environment for the victim or if it results in the victim being fired or denied employment.

It is only considered harassment if the perpetrator is a supervisor

It does not need to be a supervisor or someone else in a position of authority over the victim who makes these unwelcome advances. It can be a manager from a different department, a co-worker, or even a customer or vendor.

There is only one victim in a case of sexual harassment

Any third party who witnesses the harassment can also be impacted by it.

It is not such a big deal

People affected by sexual harassment may be made to feel like they are exaggerating what happened or that what happened was insignificant. The truth is that the victim has a right to express their feelings and report whoever is behaving inappropriately.

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the place where you work, you must report the unwelcome behavior to your supervisor or Human Resources. You can also consult a sexual harassment attorney who will explain the legal options available to you and how to proceed to protect your rights. Once you have the right information, you can decide on your next steps.

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