Workplace harassment can take on many different forms. While no form is technically more illegal than another, sexual harassment can feel especially violating. In general, harassment is defined as annoying, intimidating, or threatening behavior or actions that make someone fear for their safety. Types of offending behaviors include offensive comments or epithets, physically blocking someone, and invasive touching.
Workplace harassment is against federal and California state laws. However, reviewing complaints of workplace harassment, including those involving sexual harassment, is usually the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) responsibility.
Non-Sexual vs. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Analyzing the legal matters surrounding sexual harassment versus non-sexual harassment is often complex. The courts recognize critical distinctions and definitions between each.
What Is Non-Sexual Harassment?
Non-sexual harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Non-sexual harassment involves words, behaviors, or actions that relate to:
- Age (over 40 years of age)
- Skin color
- National origin
Some examples of non-sexual harassment in the workplace include the following:
- Racist jokes, comments, or nicknames
- Sarcastic comments about an individual’s religious beliefs or lack thereof
- Inappropriate statement about another’s ethnicity or skin color
- Making inappropriate remarks or mocking a co-worker’s disability
- Derogatory statements, verbal or written, about religious, ethnic, or racial stereotypes
- Offensive comments about an individual’s age, particularly an older person
Suppose non-sexual harassment actions create a hostile work environment or an uncomfortable atmosphere for the offended person. In that case, they or someone else can report it. Once a complaint is filed, appropriate actions must be taken.
One significant difference between non-sexual harassment and sexual harassment is that the former improper or illegal action won’t possibly turn into non-sexual abuse. Instead, it starts as a type of harassment and might intensify to a criminal act if there are other factors present, such as an assault or instilling fear in the victim.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Various government entities that study sexual harassment have identified three different categories of sexual harassment as types of illegal discrimination:
- Gender harassment, including comments or actions conveying hostility, objectification, or exclusion toward one gender or the other.
- Unwanted sexual attention or unwelcome verbal or non-verbal sexual advances
- Coercion, as a form of advantageous professional or educational treatment dependent upon sexual activity or favors
The harassing conduct can be directly targeted at one person or general in nature to create an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Workplace sexual harassment behavior examples include the following:
- Unsolicited sexual advances
- Sharing sexually suggestive videos or images in the workplace
- Sending sexual emails or letters or texts
- Sharing sexist, lewd, offensive, or disparaging jokes or remarks about another employee
- Inappropriate sexual gestures such as catcalls, gestures, leering, ogling, or obsessively watching another employee in a sexual manner
- Commenting about a co-worker’s body, apparel, or appearance in a suggestive way.
- Inappropriate touching, including pats, slaps, pinches, rubbing, or brushing up against another person
- Asking about a co-worker’s sexual preferences or orientation.
- A quid pro quo situation
- Threats to punish a co-worker who refuses sexual advances by taking an adverse employment action
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment
If you are experiencing any sexually harassing behaviors or situations, you don’t have to face the harassment alone. Attorneys who make California sexual discrimination and harassment complaints the focus of their practice can assist you. Reach out today to discover what your rights are and what your next steps should be.