What is sexual harassment?

Every day many women in Ohio encounter varying forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. They are subject to inappropriate gestures, comments, conversations and other behaviors that belittle them and make them feel uncomfortable. Many employers and their workers know that sexual harassment is illegal. Many workplaces have policies in place to discourage it. But that does not stop it from going on. Women who wish to avoid a hostile workplace should take some time to learn about the different forms of sexual harassment and how to deal with them.

Sexual harassment can occur physically, verbally and through written communication and displays. It can also happen to men. It includes offensive materials, words, actions and communications that are sexual, pornographic, demeaning and gender biased. Many people unknowingly sexually harass their coworkers every day. Whether or not it is done intentionally, it is still illegal, and appropriate actions are necessary to prevent it.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is important that you act quickly.  Failing to immediately report sexual harassment to your employer can limit your ability to hold the harasser responsible.  And if your employer has a policy requiring you to report sexual harassment to a particular person or department, make sure you follow that policy.  Many people are afraid of retaliation if they report sexual harassment, but failing to report it can have even greater consequences.  The best thing you can do if you think you are the victim of sexual harassment is to contact an attorney immediately.  

Sharing and distribution

People who share and distribute pictures, messages, jokes and other forms of communication and material that are sexually offensive to others are committing sexual harassment. It does not matter if the sharer or distributor created the material or not. The mere act of sharing such material with others, even if they welcome it, is unacceptable in the workplace.

Flirting and unwanted comments

Many people perceive flirting and certain jokes and comments as harmless activities when all parties involved welcome it. However, many women who are on the receiving end of flirtatious behavior from their male and in some cases female counterparts go along with it because they fear for their jobs. Federal law protects sexual harassment victims from retaliation from their coworkers and employers.

Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when victims receive requests for sexual favors, dates, comments and are other sexually aggressive or immoral behaviors in exchange for favorable treatment on the job. Favorable treatment can be in the form of wage increases, more hours and promotion opportunities.

There is often a fine line between sexual harassment and innocent situations that are similar in nature. For example, a manager who asks an employee out on a date is not committing sexual harassment if the question is asked one time. However, if the worker turns down the manager but still receives requests for dates, that manager is committing pervasive sexual harassment. Severe cases of sexual harassment include acts of sexual aggression, such as inappropriate touches and rape.

Sexual harassment situations are not easy to deal with. Some of the events that occur may seem normal, but they can escalate and turn the workplace into a hostile environment. Those who believe they are experiencing sexual harassment should speak with an attorney about the situation to learn about their options.

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