Warning Signs of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment disrespects your personal boundaries.
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When you arrive at work, all you've got on your mind is finishing that project that's due later today. Then, your creepy male colleague approaches and stands too close to you or puts his hand on your shoulder. His behavior isn't just uncomfortable -- it may also be considered sexual harassment. Almost any unwanted action, including sexist comments and inappropriate touching, falls under the harassment umbrella. Learn what's considered sexual harassment so you can put a stop to the behavior the first time warning signals appear at your job.

Sexist Behavior

    Sexist jokes and remarks make you and your coworkers uncomfortable, but you probably didn't know that they're considered sexual harassment. If you don't want to hear your coworker's sexual jokes, you're being harassed when he tells them. Some men dislike women and make it their job to let everyone in the office know it. Your coworker might make subtle jabs at the opposite sex, or he may come right out and insult you for being female. If you're sick of your coworker's raunchy jokes and sexist remarks, ask your boss to make him keep his opinions to himself.

Coercion and Bribery

    You think your superiors and boss are on your side, but sometimes they're the ones doing the harassing. For example, your boss might offer you a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor. If you say no, he's unlikely to quit his advances. Sometimes, he will try to coerce you into saying "yes." He might threaten to fire you, demote you or dock your pay if you don't participate in a sexual act with him. If this happens, gather evidence of the harassment -- when and where it happened, any witnesses -- and report it to your boss's superior.

Physical Harassment

    Physical harassment is typically the most obvious. This type of harassment starts when your coworker stands too close to you, invading your personal space. He might then put a hand on you or try to rub your back while you sit at your desk. He may offer you an unwanted hug or kiss. At best, your coworker is an innocent, if clueless, flirt. At worst, this harassment can progress to sexual assault or rape. Report this behavior to your boss immediately to prevent it from getting worse.

Other Harassment

    Your coworker might be harassing you if he makes lewd noises, whistles at you or even just stares at you. Some coworkers may harass you with an obscene phone call or note left on your desk. If your coworker gives you an inappropriate gift, such as lingerie, that may be considered harassment. Your coworker may be harassing others if he displays pornography or sexist cartoons in his workspace.

What to Do

    Sexual harassment can have a host of negative effects, including embarrassment, fear, headaches, anxiety and depression. It may lead to absenteeism, changed career goals, poor performance evaluations or even loss of your job. If you think you're being harassed, it's best to confront your coworker directly. For example, you might say "Bob, I don't like it when you put your hand on my shoulder." Don't smile or appear timid when you confront him. This will stop a lot of harassment, but if it doesn't work, tell him you're going to the boss about his harassment. Make sure you follow through.

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