Sexual harassment in the workplace is inappropriate and unacceptable. Forwarding innuendo-laden jokes or e-mails, flirting, inappropriate touching and promises of reward for sexual acts are all examples of sexual harassment. Victims of workplace sexual harassment are often hesitant to take action for fear of reprisal. To prevent its occurrence, know what constitutes sexual harassment and understand that you have the right to protect yourself.
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What is Sexual Harassment?
Equal Rights Advocates defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment." Sexual harassment is often thought of as a man harassing a woman, but the reverse can also be true. Any unwelcome behaviour on the basis of gender can be construed as sexual harassment.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Verbal sexual harassment can include dirty jokes, innuendo, lewd comments and persistent requests for dates or sexual favours. Visual sexual harassment entails viewable depictions of a sexual nature (e.g., a screen saver of a model with flimsy swimsuit). Physical conduct is sexual harassment when it involves touching, kissing, hugging, caressing, blocking movement or even sexual assault.
How to Prevent Sexual Harassment
Advances of this type must be unwelcome to be considered sexual harassment. Sexual attraction is a natural part of human biology and instincts often drive individuals to act on them. Draw the line in the sand and make it clear to the offending party that his advances and/or innuendo are not welcome. If his behaviour persists despite the admonishment, especially to the point where it impedes your job functions, it is time to take action.
If sexual harassment persists, elevate the matter to your immediate supervisor. If your supervisor is the one harassing you, go to the next level above him. If there is no higher-level supervisor, you can consider legal action. If you explore this option, be prepared and have evidence on hand. Printed e-mails, eyewitness testimony and formal written complaints are all important documents to have on hand. A sexual harassment suit can become a case of "he said, she said." The more evidence you have on hand, the better case you can present.
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