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Sexual harassment is a form of sex, or gender, discrimination.  Federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment are intended to prevent unwelcome sexual advances and ensure a work environment that is free from offensive gender-based behavior.  Employees have the right to be free from any unlawful discrimination and harassment and to report any instances without concern for retaliation.

In most cases sexual harassment in the workplace involves unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, repeated and unwelcome sexual suggestions or comments, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

(1) submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made, either explicitly or implicitly, a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions; or,

(2) such advances, requests or conduct have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating or sexually  offensive work environment.

Generally speaking there are two types of sexual harassment.  The first is hostile work environment sexual harassment.  In this scenario, an employee is subject to unwelcome sexual advances, whether they involve touching or not; verbal conduct such as epithets, derogatory jokes or comments, slurs, telling of sexual stories, gossip regarding one’s sex life, comments on an individual’s body, comments about an individual’s sexual activity, deficiencies or prowess, or references to sexual conduct which unreasonably interferes with one’s work performance; and visual conduct such as derogatory and/or inappropriate sexually oriented emails, text messages, posters, photography, cartoons, drawings, or gestures.  Minor or isolated incidents are not sufficient to establish a hostile work environment.  The objectionable conduct must be severe or pervasive.

The other type of sexual harassment involves requests for sexual favors in exchange for actual or promised job benefits.  This is referred to as “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, which is Latin for “something for something.”  It occurs when employment, promotion, salary increases, work assignments and other terms and conditions of employment are made contingent on accepting a sexual advance from a supervisor, manager or owner of the employer, or when the employee’s refusal of the sexual advance results in a tangible employment action such as lost pay or termination.

If an employee is the victim of sexual harassment, the employee must follow the employer’s policy on complaining about and reporting the sexual harassment.  Failure to do so in certain instances can allow an employer to avoid liability.

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