Coworker Sexual Harassment: Recognition and Solution

Coworker Sexual Harassment: Recognition and Solution

The Facts

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Coworker sexual harassment can usually involve a wide spectrum of unacceptable behavior. It can show itself in requests for sexual favors, as well as other inadequate verbal or physical abuse of a sexual character. Sexual harassment at the workplace goes beyond readily obvious sexual advances or physical contact. This can even include sexually themed "joke" emails or suggestive SMS messages. At times, even the harasser can be in a superior position in the hierarchy over the victim at work, and they use that power to exert excessive pressure on the victim. 

Sexual harassment training is important and mandatory in several states to create safer and more productive workplaces for employees.

Difference Sorts of Sexual Harassment at Workplace

It is essential to recognize the numerous types of sexual advancements or abuses to which a person may be exposed at work. Sexual harassment can be divided into two categories:

  • Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo is a Latin word that roughly translates to "one thing for another." When your job perks, such as a raise or not being dismissed, are conditional on you agreeing to your boss's unwanted sexual advances, this is known as quid pro quo. Because a supervisor can provide or omit job benefits, quid pro quo is only applicable when the harasser is a supervisor. 

Sexual favors, for example, could be a precondition for a promotion. Similarly, a coworker may threaten to terminate, demote, or withhold to promote an employee based on the employee's refusal to accept sexual advances.

  • Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is one in which an employee is subjected to inappropriate sexual remarks, unwanted physical contact, or derogatory sexual stuff frequently. In general, unless the behavior was exceedingly horrendous, a single isolated event may not be considered sexual harassment. Directors, management, coworkers, and clients can all contribute to a hostile work environment. Employers may be held liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by any of these individuals if they fail to take action to address the harassment, and the company may be held accountable.

A hostile work environment is a more substantial form of sexual harassment. Inappropriate physical contact or oral and written remarks that significantly impair the victim's capacity to execute their job, or result in an upsetting, insulting, or otherwise antagonistic work environment, constitute a hostile work environment.

What are the behaviors that can be considered as an act of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment by coworkers can take many forms, including, but not confined to:

  • Sexual gags or stories, whistling, catcalls, lip-smacking sounds, obscene jokes, photos, videos, and sexual remarks on a person's looks, attire, or anatomy are all examples of sexual jokes and comments.
  • Unwelcome sexual approaches include staring obnoxiously or suggestively, teasing or offensive sexual expressions, indecent touching or other contacts, unwanted calls, texts, emails, or letters, and inquiries regarding sexual history.
  • Lying, guilt or peer pressure, exploitation of a position of power, the threat of social alienation, pressuring, pleading, or flattering, trying to intimidate the loss of a job or promotion, buying presents, or tend to spend money in favor of sexual returns.
  • Impeding a person's personal space, verbal behavior accompanied by indecent touching, physical advances, impeding a victim's capacity to flee physical contact are all examples of unlawful touching.

Differentiating Harassment and Discrimination

Harassment in the workplace is defined as a pattern of behavior that makes an individual feel awkward, rejected, or intimidated. Harassment is caused by jokes, insults, put-downs, threats of violence, obscene objects or cartoons, and contact. Unless the incident is substantial, a single incident does not usually indicate a hostile workplace. A pattern of harassment is usually demonstrated by repeated behavior by one or more people.

Discrimination is when an employer makes decisions based on race, color, age, ethnicity, disabilities, gender or sexuality, or any protected classification, rather than capability, aptitude, experience, or any other legitimate consideration. A single occurrence of refusing an individual a job or a promotion, or firing an existing employee, based on one or more of the protected factors, is considered discrimination.

What can You do to Stop being Sexually Harassed?

Every person possesses the right to work without being subjected to sexual harassment. If you believe you are subjected to sexual harassment, you should examine the following options:

  • Raise Your Voice

Tell the harasser that you do not accept their behavior and that you want it to end, either vocally, in writing, or via email. Keep track of everything you send over email or in person. For two reasons, email is frequently the best approach to notify an employer:

Firstly, it leaves a permanent electronic trail that includes verification of notice and reception. You can "bcc" oneself on the email, request a response, or even tag the email with the date it was opened.

Then, it may induce an acknowledgment of harassment or some other form of incriminating reaction from the harasser, which is otherwise less obvious. When it comes to email, people tend to answer quickly and without thinking. Therefore, email can serve as evidence in case you proceed legally.

  • Record the Sequence of Events

Make a note of the details of the incident as soon as possible when it occurs so you'll have a full record of it. Summarize exactly what happened, when it happened, your response to the incident, any person who was present at the time of the incident, and who you told about it. If you remember, include the precise words or language used.

  • Find Support from Your Coworkers

Check with coworkers to determine whether they've been harassed as well. To end the harassment, you might be able to work together and offer each other support.

As soon as feasible, inform your supervisor of the harassment and request that it be stopped. If you prefer to report it to your supervisor in person, make sure to document the encounter using an email or other written document.

  • File a Formal Complaint

In case you have made up your mind to address your grievances by filing a formal complaint, you can do so at the place of employment or your union. Otherwise, contact your company's human resources department. You could also register a complaint with the relevant government agency or pursue a lawsuit. In such scenarios, keep the copies of any recorded discussions concerning workplace harassment that you send or receive. This data could aid your case by demonstrating how others reacted when you reported the harassment.


Workplaces should stay professional, and people should not be subjected to overt sexual anecdotes or images as an employee. Your coworker can create a hostile work atmosphere if they disclose unpleasant personal details with you regularly. Alternatively, your coworker may ask you about personal or sexual matters regularly. In any circumstances, the productivity and efficiency of the workplace will be hampered. The strained relationships between the coworkers will eventually adversely affect the working conditions. 

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