Blog Employment

What Counts as Sexual Harassment at Work?

Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been an issue in the workplace for decades and it’s been reported that one-third of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point in the workplace.

However, with the rise of more and more people coming forward to share their stories on social media, sexual harassment is finally getting the attention that it deserves.

And while some companies have taken up initiatives and campaigns to prevent and fight against sexual harassment, many don’t know what counts as sexual harassment so they fail to report the harassment.

Sometimes, perpetrators show this inappropriate behavior in more subtle forms and a variety of ways.

To help you determine if your rights have been violated, we’ll discuss the legal definition of workplace sexual harassment, its types, and examples.

What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Workplace sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct of a sexual nature that makes an employee feel uncomfortable, intimidated, humiliated, or offended.

Such inappropriate conduct and behavior create a workplace environment that’s hostile and unsafe for employees.

The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act recognizes sexual harassment at work as unlawful, which applies to government agencies, labor organizations, and private employers with 15 or more employees.

Under this law, there are two types of workplace sexual harassment:

  • Hostile work environment – This type of sexual harassment happens when an employee is subjected to a severe and pervasive unwelcome physical or verbal form of sexual harassment. The level of these offenses is so bad that even one incident is enough to alter the employee’s working condition or create an abusive environment.
  • Quid pro quo harassment – A quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor, manager, or other authority figures asks for sexual favors or other sexual conduct in exchange for employment benefits or promotions.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment at work comes in different types or forms. Some conducts are obvious in their nature, while other forms of sexual harassment are subtle.

Below are the major types of sexual offenses and some of their examples:

Physical Forms

Any kind of physical contact without a valid nonsexual reason and make another employee uncomfortable, intimidated, or humiliated can potentially be considered sexual harassment. For example:

  • Intentionally touching
  • Massaging
  • Caressing
  • Rubbing
  • Pinching
  • Hugging
  • Kissing
  • Violating someone’s personal space by getting too close
  • Sexual assault or rape

Verbal Forms

Sexual assault in the workplace is not limited to inappropriate physical contact. It also includes verbal forms of harassment said out loud either directly to an employee, near them, or about them.

This inappropriate behavior often includes unwelcome comments with sexual overtones, including:

  • Sexual comments or jokes about an employee’s physical appearance or clothes
  • Questions about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history
  • Innuendos
  •  Abusive language or name-calling
  •  Whistling or catcalling
  • Spreading lies about a person’s sex life
  • Making inappropriate sounds like kissing smacking lips
  • Verbal attacks using threatening, discriminatory, or demeaning words
  • Embarrassing someone in front of other people

Visual or Non-Verbal Forms

Visual or non-verbal gestures and behaviors can also cross the line into illegal sexual harassment. They may be considered sexual in nature when the action makes a coworker uncomfortable.

Some examples of these forms of sexual harassment include:

  • Staring at someone for too long
  • Looking a person up and down
  • Following the person
  • Blocking their path
  • Making inappropriate facial expressions like winking, licking lips, or throwing a kiss
  • Making sexual gestures through hand gestures or body movements
  • Sending sexual messages, videos, or other content
  • Exposing private parts in front of a person
  • Suggestively touching oneself in front of a person


Workplace sexual harassment is considered illegal and a grave violation of the law. If you believe that you have been sexually harassed at work, there are steps that you can take to protect your rights and interest.

You can report the incident to the management or authority figures and ask that something should be done to stop it.

If the employer is found liable for negligence and damages caused by the sexual harassment, you may also qualify for compensation.

When dealing with any form of sexual harassment, it’s best to consult with and hire an experienced and competent sexual harassment lawyer. They can help you seek claims, demand proper action to resolve the issue, and achieve the best outcome to protect your rights.

About the author

Career Geek Community

The Career Geek Community is a group of passionate entrepreneurs & business consultants eager to share their advice and experience. Please note, this content may include links to products or services that we do not formally endorse, and for which we may receive compensation.