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Sexual Harassment for Employees

Learning Objectives

  • Define sexual harassment.
  • Identify behaviors that might be considered sexual harassment.
  • Identify the steps an employee should take if harassment occurs.
  • Identify actions that can help prevent sexual harassment in their workplace.
  • Identify management responsibilities in responding to a harassment complaint.
  • Define retaliation and identify examples.

Available in English, Spanish

30 minutes

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17.6% percent of sexual harassment charges were filed by males in 2013.

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very real problem. Sexual harassment damages employees and companies. It can result in loss of productivity, poor performance, disruptive work environments, and loss of good employees and managers. Sexual harassment is against the law. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

What does sexual harassment look like?

Sexual Harassment Behaviors

Three criteria that must be met:

  • Must be of a sexual nature
  • Must be unwelcome
  • Must be severe or pervasive

Employees might not report unwelcome conduct or behaviors for fear of job loss or other retaliation, especially when a power dynamic exists between employees and supervisors.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

  • Quid Pro Quo is Latin, legal term meaning "this for that".
  • An employee in a position of power, or a perceived position of power, who subjects another person to unwelcome sexual conduct that affects, or is perceived to affect, the terms or conditions of employment.
  • Typically a real or perceived job-related negative impact, such as loss of promotion, if the employee does not accept or agree to the conduct.
  • Unlawful whether or not the employee submits to the sexual activity.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

  • Sexually harassing behaviors by a manager, supervisor, another employee, or a third party, that are sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive to unreasonably interfere with an employee’s job performance;
  • Courts employ "reasonable person" standard;
  • A person does not have to be the target for a hostile work environment to occur.

Behaviors Include:

  • Sexually oriented jokes
  • Sexually explicit emails, screen savers, text messages
  • Unwanted verbal and physical contact, including touching, hugging, kissing, patting or fondling, or intentional and repeated brushing or bumping against a person’s body
  • Repeated letters, telephone calls, visits, or pressure for dates or sexual favors
  • Repeated, unwanted flirting
  • Sexually suggestive "gifts"
  • "Stalking" behavior
  • Sexually crude hand gestures, leering at the body, or sexually suggestive winking
  • Spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance


  • Quid Pro Quo
  • Employer is always held liable
  • Harasser is always held liable
  • Hostile Work Environment
  • Harasser is always liable
  • Employer is liable for harassment by a supervisor or manager
  • Employer and manager/supervisor liable for harassment by coworker, or third party if they:
  • Knew or should have known, and
  • Failed to take prompt, effective action

Employer generally not liable for Hostile Work Environment sexual harassment if they:

  • Have a policy against harassment
  • Have proper complaint procedures
  • Adequately communicate the policy and provide training to all employees
  • Take quick, appropriate action when an incident is reported or witnessed

What To Do If You Are Harassed

  • If comfortable doing so, talk to the harasser in private
  • Make sure the harasser understands the problem by being specific
  • Tell your supervisor, manager, or the Human Resources Department

Whether you choose to talk to the harasser or report the harassment through formal channels, you should always document your discussions and actions and keep records. Make sure you include as much information as possible, but at least record the dates, times, places, behaviors, people involved, and witnesses. Witnesses are very important and can help to establish a pattern of behavior that is part of a larger problem, especially if several people are involved.

What Should be Done to Prevent Sexual Harassment?

  • Develop and publicize a sexual harassment policy that clearly states sexual harassment will not be tolerated and that explains what types of conduct will be considered sexual harassment.
  • Develop and publicize a specific procedure for resolving complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Develop methods to inform new management and employees of the company's sexual harassment policy and reporting procedure.
  • Conduct annual sexual harassment awareness training for all employees.

Management Responsibilities

  • Understand federal and state laws
  • Understand company's sexual harassment policy
  • Model appropriate behavior
  • Create and maintain a positive, productive workplace
  • Take steps to eliminate sexual harassment behaviors
  • Investigate every complaint
  • Contact Human Resources Department for guidance or assistance
  • Maintain confidentiality, except for disclosure reasonably required by an investigation

Sexual harassment is a crime that creates a whole host of problems in the workplace. First, no one should have to work with the fear of being subjected to unwanted advances from colleagues. Sexual harassment has a chilling effect in the workplace that fractures working and personal relationships in the workplace, and damages the reputation of employers that foster such an environment. Liability is high in sexual harassment situations, so there is good reason to take every measure possible to deter sexual harassment behaviors.

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Course Outline
  • Introduction
  • Recognizing Sexual Harassment Behaviors
  • What To Do If You Are Sexually Harassed
  • Preventing Sexual Harassment
  • Move Quickly and Take Appropriate Action
  • Retaliation
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Law 1964
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission