Sexual Harassment – Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment occurs when there is a “hostile work environment” – which is “severe or pervasive” unwelcome sexual conduct related to the workplace, such as sex jokes, posters or flyers that make fun of women, unwanted touching, requests for sexual favors, comments about a person’s body or sexuality, or actual sexual assault or rape. Sex harassment also occurs when an employer denies an employee a promotion or fires an employee if the employee doesn’t engage in sex with him or her.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Under the federal laws as enforced by the EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision such as the victim being fired or demoted.


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