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What acts can constitute sexual harassment?

While most of us know that sexual harassment is not a good thing, many people in Washington, D.C., are not aware of what behavior constitutes unlawful sexual harassment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The law is applicable to places of employment that have 15 or more workers and this includes labor organizations, federal government jobs and employment agencies.

There are numerous ways in which sexual harassment can occur and it's not always the most obvious situations. Unlawful sexual harassment can include unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, physical and verbal activities that are considered sexual and other behaviors. If these interfere with the victim's work, the behavior may be deemed sexual harassment. The harasser isn't confined to a particular sex or sexual orientation. It can be male-female, female-male, male-male or female-female. The person committing the harassment can be a direct supervisor of the victim, an agent working for the employer, a supervisor in a separate area, a colleague or, in some cases, someone who doesn't even work at the business.

Many might not be aware that the victim doesn't have to be specifically harassed, but could be affected by the conduct as a witness or in some other way, if the behavior creates a hostile work environment. Simply showing offensive material or making lewd comments in a joking way may be considered sexual harassment. There doesn't necessarily have to be an economic injury to the victim for there to be considered harassment. The behavior on the part of the alleged harasser is required to be unwelcome. The victim is advised to inform the person who is conducting this behavior that it is unwanted and needs to stop. If there is a method to file a complaint at work, this must be pursued.

While it can be intimidating if a person in a position of power is making sexual advances or the work environment is growing uncomfortable with lewd comments, there are options for victims to try and make it stop. They can also recover financial damages with a legal filing. Discussing the matter with a legal professional experienced in sexual harassment cases is a good place to start to gather information on what to do next.

Source: EEOC.gov, "Facts About Sexual Harassment," accessed on Apr. 2, 2015

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