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What is considered sexual harassment?

If you or a loved is in a situation involving sexual harassment at work you may wonder what is legally considered sexual harassment and what legal remedies may be available in sexual harassment situations. According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, sexual harassment is unwelcomed sexual advances or sexual conduct that unreasonably interferes with the victim's ability to perform their job or creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.

Both state and federal laws provide workplace protections against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can include a variety of behaviors such as inappropriate touching or sexually offensive jokes, among other types of behaviors. Under federal law there are two categories of sexual harassment that are legally recognized including quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment. In circumstances of quid pro quo sexual harassment, a person in a supervisory position requires subordinates to endure sexual harassment behaviors as a condition of obtaining a job, keeping a job or obtaining a job benefit such as a promotion or raise.

A hostile workplace environment may exist when unwelcome sexual conduct creates an offensive working environment. The conduct must usually be pervasive enough that it creates an abusive work environment. Factors that may be evaluated to determine if a hostile work environment exists include the frequency of the conduct; whether the conduct was verbal, physical or both; whether the conduct was hostile or patently offensive; the position of the alleged harasser; the involvement of others in the harassment; and who the harassment was directed at. The harassment must also be hostile, offensive and abusive to the victim and a reasonable person.

A single instance complained of may be enough for a quid pro quo claim of sexual harassment, while a pattern of sexually harassing behaviors may be necessary to demonstrate a hostile work environment. Because of the toll sexual harassment can take on the personal and professional lives of victims, it is important that are familiar with their rights and the different options the legal process provides to protect them when sexually harassed in the workplace.

Source: Employment.findlaw.com, "Sexual Harassment at Work," Accessed Aug. 9, 2016

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