According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination. It involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical actions that are of a sexual nature. They are all considered to be illegal.

In addition, sexual harassment can also refer to the offensive comments or remarks that are made about a person’s gender. However, this is more commonly called gender discrimination

Specifically, when this conduct occurs in a person’s work environment, it can also be viewed as a form of employment discrimination. If proven, it is considered to be a violation of a federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Title VII is one of the laws that protects employees from employer discrimination. 

In a sexual discrimination claim, Title VII legally recognizes two main types of sexual harassment. The first is titled, “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, and the second is named, “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. 

Regardless of which type it is, both quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment can be experienced by a person of any gender. Additionally, the victim and the perpetrator can either be of the same sex, or of a different sex. 

What is “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment normally involves a person who acts as a supervisor to other employees asking them to do sexual favors for them in exchange for some type of employment benefit.  

For example, quid pro quo sexual harassment may occur when a supervising employee requests that a lower-ranked employee do some kind of sexual favor for them. In return, the supervising employee will then receive a perk, such as extra pay, a higher-ranking position, or more seniority within the company. 

This form of sexual harassment differs from hostile work environment sexual harassment. This is because it must involve a coworker of a higher rank than that of the employee being sexually harassed. Generally, it only requires a single incident of sexual misconduct in order to bring a sufficient claim, as opposed to a pattern of this type of behavior. 

What is “Hostile Work Environment” Sexual Harassment?

Hostile work environment sexual harassment can occur when someone who is working at the company does one of the following things: makes intimidating or threatening comments, jokes, or repeated sexual advances, which then impacts the ability of an employee to do their job properly. 

This kind of sexual harassment is focused more on the hostile and offensive nature of the conduct that pollutes the work environment, when an individual or group of individuals harasses a colleague or group of colleagues.

Examples of hostile work environment sexual harassment may include:

  • Repeatedly telling dirty jokes or sexual stories;
  • Creating images, statues, pictures, dolls, or icons that are sexual in nature, or have a sexual undertone to them; 
  • Communicating in writing through work documents, such as memos or emails, that include details that are sexual or imply sexual advances;
  • Using insults or discriminatory remarks towards an individual or group of individuals that are of a sexual nature; or
  • Repeatedly behaving in a manner that is inappropriate, such as touching, rubbing, or groping someone. It may be that the sexually-oriented behavior was not welcomed or done with permission. Alternatively, if it is consented to, then it might be creating a hostile work environment for others who are aware of it. 

As mentioned, this behavior is usually recurring and creates a pattern that causes the work environment to become hostile, as opposed to a single incident. 

What is “Non-Direct” Sexual Harassment?

The examples of sexual harassment discussed above are common incidents of what is known as, direct sexual harassment. Non-direct or indirect sexual harassment occurs when a secondary victim has been offended by the auditory or visual sexual misconduct.

For instance, if a bystander hears something offensive, but it was not aimed at them, then indirect sexual harassment may have occurred. 

This can also happen when a bystander overhears a dirty joke or remark, sees an email or letter that is sexual in nature, or comes across pictures (e.g., on another worker’s screen saver or nude photos of a colleague being passed around at work) that are deemed to be sexually offensive. 

Additionally, non-direct sexual harassment may relate to a person who witnesses the sexual harassment of someone else. 

Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Have Been Sexually Harassed in the Workplace?

If you have experienced sexual harassment of any kind in the workplace, you should contact a local employment attorney as soon as possible. The closer in time to an incident that you bring a sexual harassment claim for, the better your chances are of it being successful.

If, even after making a formal complaint to your employer, the sexual harassment has not stopped, consulting a lawyer who handles these types of matters is the next best option. 

Your attorney will be able to provide further guidance, assist you to file a claim with the EEOC, and help you to build a case that will put an end to anything unlawful and inappropriate that you experienced.