There are many common sexual harassment scenarios that can happen at work. Over a recent three-year period, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 98,411 complaints alleging harassment of any kind and 27,291 specifically alleging sexual harassment. Sexual harassment charges accounted for more than one-third of all charges made to the EEOC during this timeframe. Despite more training and workplace campaigns, workplace sexual harassment continues in every state in America today.
All employees, no matter their location, jobs, positions, backgrounds, or place of employment, need to know what sexual harassment is, its consequences and why it’s unacceptable. Employees should know where they can report sexual harassment and what steps the employer should take when they do. They also need to know the consequences of sexually harassing a coworker in the workplace. Those who are victims have the right to hire a workplace sexual harassment attorney for help.
Types of Sexual Harassment at Work
Every sexual harassment case is different, making it difficult to recognize when you are a victim. The two main types of sexual harassment are hostile work environment harassment and quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile work environment harassment occurs when someone in the workplace engages in harassing conduct that is pervasive or offensive enough to make the workplace hostile to the victim. If a reasonable person should not tolerate the environment and conduct, it can constitute unlawful harassment.
A more malicious type of workplace sexual harassment is quid pro quo. With this type of sexual harassment, one person feels pressure to perform or tolerate a sexual act or favor to retain their job or receive a promotion. The harasser is someone who has authority over the victim’s job and uses this authority to pressure the victim into sexual conduct.
Sexual harassment can arise in many different scenarios, and we describe some possible situations below. Victims or harassers can be men, women, same-sex employees, contractors, or others involved with your work. If you suspect you experienced any type of sexual harassment, seek a legal consultation immediately.
Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment
The following are some examples of how sexual harassment can happen at work. If you have a different situation, let an employment lawyer review what happened and advise you of your rights in your specific situation.
Scenario 1: Direct and Hostile Workplace Sexual Harassment
Hilaria works at a clothing factory in San Francisco. Bill, her supervisor, frequently attempts to touch her under pretext. For instance, last week, he tried to touch the upper area of her chest under the guise that he saw a bug. This week, he attempted to hold her waist. Hilaria is uncomfortable with his action, and her factory colleagues mock her for their supervisor’s special attention.
The physical touching by Bill is an unwelcome regular occurrence. The pervasiveness of the touching makes her want to stay home from work. She reported the matter to the owner of the company, who defended the supervisor and took no action to change his behavior. This constitutes a hostile work environment, and she likely has a strong sexual harassment claim.
Scenario 2: Female to Male Sexual Harassment
Marty and Marlene work at the same organization. Marlene can’t stop looking at Marty all day. She really has eyes for him, and everyone can clearly tell. Every time Marty gets up to go to the break room, Marlene gets up and follows him so they can be alone. When alone, she asks probing questions about his personal life and attempts to make plans outside of work with him. Marty isn’t interested in Marlene’s advances at all. Her behavior becomes intolerable for him as he feels Marlene is invading his workspace.
Sexual harassment isn’t just limited to female victims and male harassers. Many people associate sexual harassment with a male employee making advances on a female, but this is not always the case. A victim can be anyone, so never wait to seek legal help even if you feel you are not a traditional victim of harassment.
Scenario 3: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Tammy has recently started working as a personal assistant to the managing director, Brett. Near the end of her probation period, Brett asks Tammy out for a drink after work. He then tells her that if she wants a permanent position with the company, she needs to have sex with him. Tammy refuses but knows that if she wants to stay employed at the firm, she must comply with Bretts’s demand. She reports Brett’s inappropriate request to the firm’s human resources department.
Because this constitutes quid pro quo harassment, the employer can be liable even if it did not have an opportunity to stop the conduct.
Scenario 4: Non-Co-Worker Workplace Sexual Harassment
Jackie and Adam meet at a work convention. They don’t work for the same company but collaborate on projects in the same industry. They exchange emails so they can communicate regarding shared assignments. After a few emails, Adam quickly changes the subject from work to compliments. He tells Jackie about how attractive and good-looking she is. She tries to bring the subject back to work-related questions. Still, Adam continues sending Jackie emails daily, professing how in love he is with her.
Jackie informs her supervisor, who then reaches out to Adam’s supervisor to inform him. She tells him that employees should refrain from making inappropriate comments and advances that make another professional uncomfortable, even if they don’t share the same workplace. If the harassment continues and the employer refuses to change Jackie’s collaborative work with her harasser, she can take action for sexual harassment.
Scenario 5: Direct Sexual Harassment
Kendra, a female receptionist, sees Curt, a male local delivery driver, every other day when he delivers packages to her office. She simply does her job by receiving and signing the deliveries, but Curt keeps asking her out and trying to flirt with her. Kendra respectfully declines and politely tells Curt that she isn’t interested. Curt is persistent and proceeds to visit her and brings her gifts and flowers in hopes she will change her mind. However, Kendra remains uninterested.
In this scenario, the receptionist said she wasn’t interested in Curt. The driver’s repeated advances can be sexual harassment if she reports this incident to the human resources department or her supervisor. The HR department or her superior can speak with the driver and explain that his advances are unwelcome and make Kendra feel uncomfortable. If the department takes inadequate action, it violates Kendra’s right to be free of harassment at work.
Scenario 6: General Hostile Workplace Sexual Harassment
A team of unruly employees at work often makes crude or inappropriate statements and jokes that other employees can overhear in the same department. Other employees feel uncomfortable and shaken by the behavior and comments, especially when their banter becomes quite graphic or absolutely inappropriate.
This is an example of a hostile working environment. Though the group did not direct their comments and jokes to other workers or anyone in particular, they still created an uncomfortable workplace for others. By not taking action in this instance, managers and employees can set their businesses up for a lawsuit.
Employers and HR departments need to talk to their employees about this type of behavior or start an individual or group session regarding these actions in the workplace. They should also lay out the consequences of insubordination and the persistence of their conduct.
Scenario 7: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Tom, a supervisor, begins to develop feelings for his subordinate, Caroline. Tom suggests a relationship with Caroline and promises work benefits such as a window office, bonuses, and promotions. Caroline isn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with Tom. Still, she worries that her chances of getting a promotion will end if she refuses to reciprocate her superior’s feelings.
This is also quid pro quo sexual harassment. It’s one of the two main types of sexual harassment, which involves an employer asking for unwanted favors from a subordinate as a condition for a promotion or another job benefit.
Everyone in the workplace should know that quid pro quo sexual harassment is unlawful, and they should report it immediately. If this happens to you, you have the right to file a lawsuit.
Scenario 8: Personal Computer Materials
A coworker, Don, checks his personal email at work, and occasionally opens his email and looks at pornographic images and videos. Not everyone in the office notices, but those who do, don’t complain or tell anyone. You observe him doing this regularly and begin to feel uncomfortable when he does this.
In these circumstances, you can advise the person to refrain from looking at inappropriate pictures or videos while at work. If he does not stop and continues to expose you to what he is viewing, you should report it to your employer immediately. If your employer does not take action, you may file a sexual harassment claim, even if the conduct was not directed toward you.
Scenario 9: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Harper is a young team leader at an advertising firm. One evening, Harper decides to stay after work with her manager, Steven, to work on an important team presentation. Steven offers to buy Harper dinner and later gives her a ride back home since her vehicle is in the shop.
After dinner, Steven cleverly tells Harper that he would love nothing more than to spend the night with her. Harper politely but firmly turns down his request and takes an Uber home. The next evening, Steven tries his luck again, but once again, Harper refuses to give in to his advances. Upon Harper’s refusal, Steven becomes rather angry. He threatens to tell everyone in the office that she made passes at him and threatens her job.
Steven’s threat to Harper that if she doesn’t accept his request for a sexual favor, he’ll ruin her reputation at the office constitutes another example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Steven’s actions involve sexual advances, an ultimatum, and can hurt Harper’s career. The employer can be liable for his harassment in this context.
Scenario 10: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Sandy works as a domestic helper at the Morris residence. Most days, Ms. Morris leaves home very early in the morning for work. Therefore, Sandy often works in the company of an older family member. Sandy finds that the older man repetitively smirks at her in a lewd manner and walks around the house in nothing but his underwear, making her very uncomfortable.
One day while she was working, he tried to fondle her breast. When she told him that she planned to report his actions to Ms. Morris, he threatened to accuse her of theft, telling her that he would ensure she lost her job there.
In this scenario, the older male household member also commits quid pro quo sexual harassment by threatening Sandy to keep silent about the unwelcome sexual advances if she wants to maintain her employment. It’s also a good example of how sexual harassment does not have to occur in a formal office setting but can happen in any work environment.
Do You Face Workplace Sexual Harassment? Hire a Workplace Sexual Harassment Attorney Today
Sexual harassment in the workplace, no matter what kind or how it occurs, is never okay. Suppose you experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In that case, reach out to an experienced sexual harassment attorney immediately.
Your attorney can assess the situation and help you determine your next best steps. Sometimes, that involves working with your employer’s human resources department, and sometimes filing a complaint in court.
If you face workplace sexual harassment, reach out for legal help today. Your employment law attorney can help you take action to hold your harasser accountable for what they did to you.