Sexual Harassment

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

A business woman coming on to a male colleague.
A man can be a victim of sexual harassment too. Image Source / Stockbyte / Getty Images

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment" (Facts About Sexual Harassment, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

It is a form of sex discrimination that Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits. 

Sexual Harassment FAQ

Are you wondering if an interaction you've had with someone at work could be considered sexual harassment? Here are answers to some questions you might have.

  • I'm a man, and my boss has been coming on to me. Can I file a sexual harassment complaint?

    Yes. If your boss is making unwanted advances that affect your performance at work or intimidate you in any way, his or her gender is irrelevant. It is still considered sexual harassment.

  • But my boss is a woman. Can a woman be a harasser?

    Certainly. The law doesn't specify the gender identity of either the complainant or the accused.

  • Can I accuse my boss, who identifies as the same gender I do of sexual harassment?

    Again, gender is irrelevant. The accused harasser and victim can identify as the same gender.

  • What if my coworker, not my boss, has been making unwanted sexual advances toward me?

    The law states the accused harasser doesn't have to be your boss. He or she can be a coworker, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another department or someone who doesn't even work for the company, for example, a client.

  • My boss asked me out several times but I've refused him. I still have my job, but I feel like he may treat me unfairly from now on. If I haven't been fired, can I still claim I've been a victim of sexual harassment?

    One doesn't have to lose his or her job or suffer economic injury to make a sexual harassment claim. If you feel intimidated or offended, you have a legitimate reason to make a claim.

  • My coworker told a dirty joke the other day. Does that mean she's sexually harassing me?
    If she does this infrequently and it doesn't create a hostile work environment, it isn't considered illegal, according to the law.

  • My boss often says nasty things about women but nothing about me in particular. Is there anything I can do about this?

    The law says your boss's comments may be illegal even if they are not about you specifically.

  • I have a crush on my boss who flirts with me relentlessly, and I flirt back. Is this sexual harassment?

    If your boss's conduct isn't unwelcome, you can't file a sexual harassment claim.

What Should You Do If You've Been a Victim of Sexual Harassment?

If you think you have been a victim of sexual harassment here are the steps you should take, in order:

  1. Tell the person you think is harassing you to stop what he or she is doing.
  2. If the behavior continues, file a complaint with your employer through whatever formal mechanism is available, if one is. The human resources department often handles these complaints.
  3. If you've taken the recommended actions but they have not helped, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the alleged incident.

    Source: Sexual Harassment. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

    Disclaimer: Please note that the information on this website is for guidance, ideas and assistance only. Dawn Rosenberg McKay makes every effort to offer accurate advice and information on this site. She is not an attorney and the content on this site is not legal advice. Employment laws and regulations vary by location so check government resources or legal counsel when in doubt about your particular situation.

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