What comes to mind when you think about sexual harassment at work? You probably think of a male employee taking advantage of, making sexual remarks about, or making suggestive gestures at a subordinate female employee.
The 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 such conduct is a requirement for an individual’s employment, is used as a factor for decisions regarding the individual’s employment, interferes with an individual’s performance at work, or creates an environment at work that is hostile or offensive.
Sexual harassment can take many different forms and can vary widely on a case by case basis. Here we will discuss some of the most common myths surrounding sexual harassment at work:
- Only women can be sexually harassed
When you think about the stereotypical case of sexual harassment or sexual assault, you probably think of a male harassing a female colleague. While the majority of cases involving sexual harassment do involve men taking advantage of women or making them feel uncomfortable, this is not always the case.
Though it is less common, men are often the victims of sexual harassment at work. A study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that approximately 16% of reported cases of sexual harassment at work involve men being the victims. If you are ever involved in or observe a situation where a man is being taken advantage of or is made to feel uncomfortable due to his sex or gender, do not brush. Men can be the victims of sexual harassment too and deserve for their claims to be taken seriously just like women’s ought to be.
- Sexual harassment can only be reported if it occurs at work
While sexual harassment cases related to the workplace often take place at work during office hours, this is not always true. Sexual harassment by colleagues can occur during, before, or after work hours, at work or work sponsored events or even at events or places completely unrelated to work.
If sexual harassment takes place during hours at the office, the employer can be held legally responsible for not preventing the occurrence. If it occurs after hours or at events unrelated to work, the employer can not be held liable, but it is still a reportable offense. The harasser can and ought to face both legal and work-related repercussions.
- Sexual harassment always involves physical actions
Many believe that for something to be considered sexual harassment, there must be physical touching or abuse involved. However, sexual harassment can take many different forms including verbal or written, physical, nonverbal, or visual.
Verbal or written sexual harassment can involve, but is not limited to sexual jokes, repeatedly asking for sexual favors or dates, or spreading rumors.
Physical sexual harassment can involve touching an individual’s body without their permission or attempting to or successfully raping someone.
Nonverbal sexual harassment can include staring at another individual in a sexual manner or making facial expressions or other gestures that are of a sexual nature.
Visual sexual harassment can include the display of images, drawings, videos, or any other visuals that are of a sexual nature.
- Sexual harassment always involves a boss or manager harassing his/her subordinates
While a large portion of sexual harassment reports involve a subordinate being harassed by their boss or manager, sexual harassment can also take other forms. Colleagues of equal standing at work can also be instigators in sexual harassment cases with either men or women being the victims.
Though rare, there have been incidents where subordinate employees have sexually harassed their bosses or other higher ups in the company. Furthermore, clients have been known in the past to sexually harass employees of a firm both during work-related events or on their own time.
- If there are no complaints, then no harassment has taken place.
A lot of victims of sexual harassment feel intimidated by their instigators and thus do not report being harassed. Many victims fear the repercussions that they could face if they make an attempt to report their victimization. Whether it is being fired, being forced to quit, getting transferred to a less desirable role or location, or any other possible consequence, victims may not be willing to risk not being able to provide for themselves or their families.
Sexual harassment victims often wait long periods of time before they gather the courage to stand up for themselves and report the harassment.
To learn more about the laws relating to sexual harassment in the United States, click here.