Your workplace should be a place where you feel safe, but unfortunately, it can be the exact opposite for many. In 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a comprehensive study on workplace harassment in the United States, which found that “25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment” while at work. This is a devastating and scary statistic. There are many behaviors and things you might not think are workplace harassment — but they definitely are, and we should be aware of them.
Being aware of what constitutes harassment is an important step in knowing whether or not you should report offensive behavior. The EEOC has also estimated that 75% of all workplace harassment incidents do not get reported. In recent months, as the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have grown, we’ve seen more people speak up about these experiences. It’s a trend that needs to continue.
The law defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.” Many of us already know the more obvious behaviors that are considered harassment, such as inappropriate touching, but what about the less obvious ones? Below, we discuss the latter.
1Overhearing inappropriate comments.
It’s important to remember that workplace sexual harassment means any kind of behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable at work — even if it didn’t exactly happen to you. Anyone who is affected by inappropriate behavior can report it, even if they weren’t the ones being targeted. For example, if you overhear one employee saying something sexual to another employee and it makes you feel uncomfortable, that can be considered harassment. Bottom line: no one should be making inappropriate remarks at work.
2 Spreading rumors about someone’s personal life.
Many people believe that only physical touching or saying something inappropriate to someone can be considered workplace harassment. Actually, even just spreading rumors about someone’s personal life can be called harassment. Again, if you’re making someone feel like they’re in a hostile workplace, it’s thought of as harassment. So if someone is gossiping about your personal life, especially your sex life, you absolutely have a right to speak up.
3Looking at images of a sexual nature.
Looking at or “displaying or sharing posters, drawings, pictures, screensavers, or emails of a sexual nature” is considered workplace harassment. It doesn’t matter if an employee is doing it completely on their own, sitting quietly at their desk looking at these things without showing them to other people. If someone else spots it, even by accident, it can be considered harassment. So if your coworker is viewing a screenshot of a half-naked woman that makes you uncomfortable, that is something that can be reported.
4Asking questions about someone’s sexual history.
Asking a fellow employee or someone who works under you how many people they’ve slept with in the past is not okay. Asking another employee if they hooked up with someone during the weekend is not okay. Asking another employee anything about their sexual history is not acceptable — no matter how innocent it seems.
5Making sexual jokes.
If you think a joke is a little too risky for work, then it probably is. Sexual jokes, no matter how innocent or “funny” they may seem, aren’t appropriate at work and can be considered sexual harassment. If your coworker is always making you feel awkward with their weird “jokes,” you can (and should) talk to someone about that.
6Commenting on someone’s relationship.
Any kind of unwanted comment can be considered workplace harassment. That means that even if another employee is asking about your relationship when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk about it, it could be considered workplace harassment.
7Making comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s never okay to make rude comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. If this is happening at work and it’s making you feel uncomfortable, and you’ve asked the person to stop and they won’t, you can report that as sexual harassment.
8Criticizing only one gender.
Pay close attention to the way you’re treated if you are a minority at your job.
9Staring at someone’s body.
Workplace sexual harassment isn’t jut about comments or physical actions — it can also be non-verbal and non-physical. For example, if someone is staring at your body in a suggestive way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that can be considered harassment.
If you are experiencing workplace sexual harassment, record the incident(s) and speak with your boss immediately. If you do not feel like you can go to your boss, you can file a complaint with the EEOC at www.eeoc.gov or 1-800-669-4000. If you are a federal employee, follow federal guidelines on how to file a sexual harassment complaint. You can obtain these guidelines from the EEOC by contacting them at 1-800-669-4000.