Every case of sexual harassment is unique. Behaviors that offend one person might not bother another at all, and industries lend themselves to different sorts of workplace misconduct.
Since there’s such a broad range of behavior that make constitute sexual harassment, some people find it hard to define sexual harassment, meaning they don’t know if they have experienced it. Thankfully, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) groups sexual harassment into two primary categories that make it much easier for you to analyze your current circumstances.
What workplace circumstances constitute actionable sexual harassment?
Quid pro quo harassment
In quid pro quo sexual harassment, one person offers employment benefits or threatens employment consequences while flirting with or attempting to solicit sexual favors from a co-worker or subordinate.
A manager offering someone a raise for sexual favors is an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. So is writing a worker up for bad attitude because they refuse to go on a date with her supervisor.
A hostile work environment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is often overt, but a hostile work environment is sometimes more subtle. People might gossip about one worker or make jokes at their expense. Everything from inappropriate and embarrassing nicknames to coworkers who treat someone differently because of their sex or gender, sexual history, or sexual orientation might constitute a hostile work environment.
If the behavior of other employees makes it difficult for someone to feel safe at work or makes them feel at odds with co-workers, their situation might constitute a hostile work environment. Occasionally, harassment straddles the line between these two categories, like when management mistreats workers who complain about customer sexual harassment in a retail environment. Regardless of who mistreats a worker, they should be able to rely on their employer to stop the harassment.
Documenting the behaviors that you believe are sexual harassment can help you bring the issue to the attention of your employer. Those records can also help you take legal action if the company doesn’t intervene to protect you. Recognizing sexual harassment when it happens is a necessary first step if you want to protect yourself from it.