How to recognize signs of sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment is something no worker should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, it happens in workplaces all over the country.

It can be difficult to identify sexual harassment. Victims may feel helpless and embarrassed – and they may question what they are experiencing is truly sexual harassment.

What, exactly, does sexual harassment in the workplace look like? What behaviors are considered sexual harassment?

Let’s take a look at some types of actions and behaviors that may be considered sexual harassment:

  • Repeatedly asking a coworker out on a date
  • Making inappropriate comments about a colleague’s appearance
  • Inappropriately touching a coworker (rubbing, hugging, patting, purposely rubbing up against, etc.)
  • Sending suggestive emails or instant messages to a coworker
  • Displaying pornography or other inappropriate images or videos at work
  • Asking inappropriate questions about a coworker’s sexual orientation, sexual experience, etc.

Sexual harassment can occur between two colleagues or between a colleague and a superior. In either case, it is illegal.

When notified, employers should take immediate action to address sexual harassment. This type of behavior is illegal and employers can be held liable for failing to take action.

In certain cases, a victim may come forward and report sexual harassment to the employer. The employer may take retaliatory action against the employee by demoting or firing him or her. This is also illegal behavior.

It is advisable for victims to speak to an attorney who handles workplace sexual harassment cases. Victims should learn about their rights, legal options, and options for seeking compensation.

If you are interested in speaking to an attorney about what is happening in your workplace, please call 202-463-6036. Your consultation is completely confidential.

Statistics about pornography and sexual harassment at work

When many Washington, D.C. residents think about sexual harassment, they may not think about sexually explicit materials that may constitute harassment. This could be many things, but generally, sexually explicit materials are photos, or anything similar, — of pornographic nature. These images are not allowed in the workplace. Despite this, some employees do engage in inappropriate online activity during work hours.

When an employee is engaging in inappropriate activity, this behavior could result in another employee feeling sexually harassed. This may happen intentionally, such as when an employee shows another employee pornographic content. Or, it could happen unintentionally. For example, an employee walked by and witnessed another employee viewing pornographic content on his or her computer.

In 2003, individuals with the organization Business and Legal Reports questioned 474 human resource professionals about pornography and sexual harassment. Of the 474 professionals, two-thirds of the group admitted to finding pornography on employees’ computers. Incredibly, more than 40 percent of these human resources personnel discovered the pornography more than once.

This study shows that pornography viewers were likely reprimanded the first time for their Internet activities. However, this did not deter more than 40 percent of them from engaging in the behavior again. In addition, a monthly report from Message Labs in March of 2004 concluded that 70 percent of Internet traffic to pornographic websites took place during daytime work hours. These statistics are troublesome- since it seems that this may lead to an increase in sexual harassment accusations in the workplace.

Some victims of sexual harassment in the workplace may not feel inclined to report the behavior, for fear of retaliation or unfair treatment at work. Victims may want to speak with a sexual harassment lawyer to discuss their options for taking action.

Source: Covenant Eyes, “Pornography Statistics – In the Workplace,” accessed on Jan. 13, 2015