What Sexual Harassment Really Looks Like

6 min

The legal definition of sexual harassment is:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment.

There’s more to sexual harassment than sexual advances or requests for sexual favors.

It’s impossible to list all of the things that might constitute sexual harassment.  

But they all have one thing in common: they affect the targeted person’s ability to do their job, either by making them unable to work with one or more people or by creating a hostile work environment.

Say Jae regularly texts Allen late at night, asking him out for a drink, even though Allen has said no in the past. That may be sexual harassment. 

Allen might feel like he can’t call this behavior out without damaging their working relationship. Or he might feel like Jae doesn’t respect him.

Or imagine Shari repeatedly makes comments about Wilson’s body.

That probably makes Wilson feel extremely uncomfortable and objectified, which makes it hard for him to do his job.

There’s no set rubric to say one thing is sexual harassment and another isn’t.

But we’ve made a guide to help you identify common forms of sexual harassment.

Time for a quiz.

During a meeting, one of your coworkers compared the sales process to seducing a woman. Is that sexual harassment?

Quiz 1 of 1

Is comparing the sales process to seducing a woman during a meeting sexual harassment?

Yes, anytime you talk about sex with someone you work with, it’s sexual harassment.
Yes, this is probably going to make any women in the meeting uncomfortable and feel like they can’t contribute.
No, the comparison is something everyone can relate to.
No, the joke isn’t targeted at any one team member. Sexual harassment is a one-on-one thing.

Answer B: Yes, this is probably going to make any women in the meeting uncomfortable and feel like they can’t contribute.

Lewd jokes are a common form of sexual harassment. They often make people feel uncomfortable and unsafe around the contributor.


Think about your own behavior. Maybe you’ve never asked someone for a quid pro quo sexual favor, but have you ever made a sexual joke that made someone uncomfortable? Have you told an inappropriate story?

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