Examples of Sexual and Non-Sexual Harassment

Businesswoman with arms crossed looking out
Shannon Fagan/Stone/Getty Images

What is considered sexual harassment at work? And how does it differ from non-sexual harassment? Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of discrimination and includes any uninvited comments, conduct, or behavior regarding sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

Sexual vs. Non-Sexual Harassment

Even though it's the type of harassment that is most often reported, harassment in the workplace and in hiring isn't limited to sexual harassment.

Other actions regarding religion, race, age, gender, or skin color, for example, can also be considered harassment if they interfere with an employee's success or conjure a hostile work environment.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Whether the offense is made by a manager, co-worker, or even a non-employee like a client, contractor, or vendor, if the conduct creates a hostile work environment or interrupts an employee's success, it is considered unlawful sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment isn't limited to making inappropriate advances. In fact, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that creates a hostile work environment.

Here are some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace and information on how to handle it if you have been harassed at work.

  • Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with co-workers
  • Sending suggestive letters, notes, or e-mails
  • Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace
  • Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes
  • Making inappropriate sexual gestures
  • Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
  • Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts
  • Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person
  • Asking sexual questions, such as questions about someone's sexual history or their sexual orientation
  • Making offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity

These are just a few examples of sexual harassment. Any sexual action that creates a hostile work environment is considered sexual harassment, and the victim of the harassment may not be just the target of the offense, but anyone who is affected by the inappropriate behavior.

Should you feel like you have been harmed by sexual harassment in the workplace, there are steps you can take to file a harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In order to successfully file such a claim, however, you have to be able to prove that a) your employer tried to correct the harassing behavior; and b) that the employee responsible for the harassment refused to cease and desist.

Thus, it is vital that you first report the harassment to your employer’s human resources department as well as taking detailed notes of the dates, times, and nature of the incidents. If attempts to remediate the situation fail, you must file your claim with the EEOC within 180 days by mail, in person, or by calling 800-669-4000.

Examples of Non-Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Behavior such as making racist or negative comments can be construed as workplace harassment. Offensive gestures, drawings, or clothing also constitute harassment. You should address this sort of workplace bullying in the same way that you would sexual harassment – by reporting it to human resources and, if nothing is done, by filing a harassment claim with the EEOC.

Instances of workplace harassment include discrimination such as:

  • Making negative comments about an employee's personal religious beliefs, or trying to convert them to a certain religious ideology
  • Using racist slang, phrases, or nicknames
  • Making remarks about an individual's skin color or other ethnic traits
  • Displaying racist drawings, or posters that might be offensive to a particular group
  • Making offensive gestures
  • Making offensive reference to an individual's mental or physical disability
  • Sharing inappropriate images, videos, e-mails, letters, or notes in an offensive nature
  • Offensively talking about negative racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes
  • Making derogatory age-related comments
  • Wearing clothing that could be offensive to a particular ethnic group

Non-sexual harassment isn't limited to these examples. Non-sexual harassment includes any comment, action, or type of behavior that is threatening, insulting, intimidating or discriminatory and upsets the workplace environment.

It's Important to Know the Rules

When you're job searching, it's important to know that rules apply as to what employers can and cannot ask, related to some of the harassment examples listed above.

During an interview, employers should not be asking about your race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences, or age. If this happens, it should serve as a red flag that you may not want to pursue your candidacy with this employer.

Related Articles: How to Handle Workplace Harassment Issues | Examples of Employment Discrimination