Verbal Sexual Harassment Examples: How To Recognize And Report It

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace, whether physical or verbal. Verbal harassment that is offensive, hostile, or intimidating can be a common form of sexual harassment. It can affect an employee just as much as physical harassment.

Many forms of verbal harassment can be considered sexual harassment. Some examples are offensive jokes of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual advances, excessive and unwelcome flirting, requests for sexual favors, suggestive or obscene emails, and derogatory comments in a sexual context. 

Verbal Sexual Harassment – An Overview

Sexual harassment in a work environment refers to repeated and continuous behaviors of a sexual nature, including comments, touching, sending or posting photos and literature (e.g., emails), or requests (e.g., a supervisor asking an employee for sex or a date).

Verbal sexual harassment refers to any of the above behaviors said out loud either to a person directly, near them, or about them. That can look like inappropriate sexual comments about your appearance to colleagues, sexually suggestive emails sent to your work account, and lewd requests for dates or sexual favors. These are all a type of sexual harassment and serious violation. 

A recent study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016 found that at least one in four women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. According to this study, 87 to 94 percent of employees do not file formal complaints with anyone, including their employer.

The conduct of employees in the workplace is important. Certain behaviors, such as verbal sexual harassment, are inappropriate and unwelcome. They are also illegal and cause hostile work environments. Employers typically have a sexual harassment policy or a more general anti-harassment policy in line with the anti-discrimination law.

Examples of Verbal Harassment

Here are some examples of verbal harassment. Of course, these need to cause a hostile work environment to be taken seriously in the legal world. Unfortunately, some one-time instances might not hold much merit.

  • Jokes
  • Innuendos
  • Racial, Sexist, or Homophobic Slurs
  • Name-Calling
  • Condescending Talk
  • Insults

How Can You Recognize Verbal Sexual Harassment?

Harassment includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Requests for sexual favors.
  • Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Verbal harassment does not have to be sexual and can include offensive remarks based on gender. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making lewd 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 of the same sex. Verbal sexual harassment can be exhibited by a man to a woman, by a woman to a man, and can also happen between two individuals of the same gender. The harasser can be the direct supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone not an employee, such as a client or customer. 

The law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. However, harassment is illegal when severe enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment resulting in an adverse employment decision. 

How Can You Report Verbal Sexual Harassment?

HR in an organization often plays a role in protecting the company from liability rather than protecting employees. If you file a sexual harassment claim and human resources begin to investigate, you may find that they ask questions about your conduct, not just of your harasser. That is one of the reasons why many sexual harassment complaints do not turn into sexual harassment cases. 

According to a 2016 study, workplace harassment often goes unreported because employees fear disbelief, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation. That may sound or feel discouraging, and in many ways, it is. What is the point of a sexual harassment policy if employees are not safe from the potential aftermath in their work environment? 

However, recently, we can see an influx in people reporting sexual harassment and assault. Now, more than ever before, workplace harassment (and verbal sexual harassment) is taken seriously.

If you are looking to report verbal sexual harassment, consider taking the following steps:

  • Document Your Experience

When verbal sexual harassment occurs, many people find that they freeze or are unsure how to respond. That is perfectly normal, as you do not expect to be sexually harassed during your workday. If this happens, try writing down the details of the harassment as soon as you can.

If you know your workplace policy and procedure, make sure you have as much necessary information as they will need to pursue your claim in full. Write down as much detailed information about the occurrence as you can; the more information for your notes, the better. In general, you may want to note:

  1. What was said
  2. Who was involved
  3. Where the verbal sexual harassment occurred
  4. What time/date did the verbal sexual harassment occur
  5. Repeated occurrences

You may also want to note your feelings or physiological responses to the verbal harassment. You do not have to share this with anyone if you want to, but writing these down can help you process what happened and clarify your thoughts.

  • File Your Complaint as a Group

Unsurprisingly, there is strength in numbers. Reporting verbal sexual harassment as a group can help mitigate the perceived consequences of reporting, including being taken seriously and retaliation. Do not pressure your colleagues to share their verbal harassment stories, but if you find that they have experienced similar workplace sexual harassment and are looking to bring their sexual harassment claim, team up. Your employer will have to take your complaint more seriously if it comes from more than one employee.

  • Check Your Employee Handbook

Most workplaces have official policies and procedures for reporting unwelcome sexual harassment; make sure you review yours before notifying HR. You will want to be clear about what information your sexual harassment case needs and whom you need to report. It varies from workplace to workplace, but generally, you will bring your sexual harassment complaint to your HR representative or your supervisor.

You can report verbal sexual harassment in most workplaces even if you are not the victim. Many HR departments encourage witnesses to report verbal abuse, sex discrimination, and violations of anti-discrimination law when they see it in their work environment. If your human resources team welcomes this kind of supportive conduct, file a complaint.

  • Use the Legal System

Verbal sexual assault in the workplace is illegal; nobody should have to work in a hostile work environment where they’re victims of sexually suggestive comments and actions. If you feel that your employer isn’t doing enough to protect you, you do have the option to file a complaint with your local police department and seek legal advice and representation. 

In both cases, there is, unfortunately, no guarantee that taking this kind of action will lead to the desired legal consequences.

  • Get Support

Many people find involving HR to be an unsupportive experience. You might feel like it will just make everything more hostile, severe, or pervasive. If so, find your support system both at work and outside of work. You might not want to report to HR or a supervisor, but you can confide in a co-worker. This person (or people) can help you strategize what you need to feel comfortable and safe.

To conclude, verbal harassers need not necessarily be colleagues at work; instead, they can be clients, suppliers, or peers, from outside too. So it is necessary for employers to take a comprehensive approach and tackle this unlawful sexual harassment at the earliest.

Related Content

IMPACTFUL COMPLIANCE & PREVENTION TRAINING

Impactly’s online sexual harassment and diversity, equity & inclusion training packages are used by hundreds of organizations across the country. Impactly is powered by Get Inclusive, one of the largest providers of prevention and compliance training for colleges and universities.