sexual harassment behavior in the workplace

What Behaviors Are Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, between the fiscal years 2018 and 2021, the Commission received more than 98,000 claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. This number included a significant jump in claims in the two years following the advent of the #MeToo movement. 

Sexual harassment remains a persistent problem in the workplace. Such harassment can take many forms, some of which may be subtle. However, any unwelcome action, behavior, or comment of a sexual nature is potentially sexual harassment, and you have the right to work in an environment free from such behaviors.

Touching, Grabbing, or Groping

Unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature is one of the clearest examples of sexual harassment. A coworker or supervisor who touches you on an intimate part of your body without your permission is engaging in sexual harassment. This includes your genitals, buttocks, and breasts.

Other touching, though, could also qualify as sexual harassment. This includes back rubs, shoulder or neck massages, tickling, or touching of your legs, thighs, and knees. If these actions are accompanied by unwanted sexual comments (“You are so beautiful”), the harassing nature of these actions becomes even clearer.

Off-Color Jokes or Inappropriate Comments

Sexual harassment does not have to involve touching, though. Verbal conduct can cross the line and become sexual harassment if the joke, comment, or conversation is of a sexual nature and unwelcome. Examples of harassing verbal conduct include:

  • Jokes with sexually offensive punchlines or that make fun of one sex or the other
  • Derogatory comments about male or female anatomy
  • Gross and offensive generalizations or stereotypes for male or female behavior
  • Invasive questions about your sexual life and activities

Like physical contact that is uninvited and unwelcome, these and other comments of a sexual nature are more likely to be harassing if they are not welcomed by you. Also, if you express your discomfort with these types of conversations and they continue nonetheless, they are likely fueled by an intention to harass.

Requests for Sexual Favors

Finally, requests from coworkers or supervisors for sexual favors are also a form of sexual harassment. A manager may solicit sex or other sexual conduct in exchange for a favorable performance review, a promotion, or a raise. This is a clear act of sexual harassment and a violation of your rights.

Such requests do not need to be accompanied by a promised exchange to be harassment, though. A persistent coworker who continues to proposition you for sex or a relationship despite you rejecting such advances is also committing sexual harassment. 

Do you need to object before it is considered harassment?

While a verbal objection or protest from you will make it clear that any similar conduct in the future will be considered harassment, you do not need to verbalize your objection to your harasser. You can make a report with your human resources department, your local EEOC office, or the New Jersey attorney general’s Division on Civil Rights.

If the harassing behavior continues even after you have made a report, then it may be time to assert your legal rights in court. You may be entitled to compensation, including compensatory damages as well as punitive damages if the harassment is particularly egregious and severe.

A New Jersey Employment Lawyer to Guide and Support You

You do not need to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. If you feel uncomfortable on the job because of harassing conduct based on your sex, NJ Employment Lawyers, LLC wants to help you. We will assist you in exploring and taking advantage of all opportunities to address the harassing behavior in your workplace. Speak with us today about your case.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.