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What constitutes sexual harassment?

When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, it can be hard to know what crosses the line. Often, it's tempting to ignore harassment or justify an incident by convincing yourself or others it was just a joke.

However, harassment is serious. Even one incident of verbal harassment is a major problem, and should be dealt with. It sounds simple, but that’s rarely the case. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what constitutes harassment.

Sexual harassment comes in many forms. A few examples include:

  • Comments about a person’s looks or any unwanted conversation that is sexual in nature.
  • Touching someone or making inappropriate advances.
  • When a manager implies they will give you something in exchange for a sexual demand. This is called quid pro quo sexual harassment.
  • Sending or sharing explicit text or images.

As these examples show, there are a variety of behaviors and incidents that can constitute sexual harassment, and these are just a few examples. Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and is sexual in nature in any way could be harassment.

How to handle harassment

If you are comfortable approaching the person who harassed you, this can be the best first step. They may not know they are doing anything wrong, and a simple conversation could end the problem.

However, if the harassment doesn’t stop, you should inform your supervisor or manager. If it is a superior harassing you, you should follow your company’s policy, which could include speaking with human resources.

If your situation can’t be easily handled internally, and especially if you are dealing with consistent harassment, you may need to look into taking legal action.

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