Examples of Sexual and Non-Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Everyone knows that the workplace can be a very stressful environment and many would love to get rid of it. Namely, long shifts, tons of paperwork, tight schedules, few days off, etc.
Someone would think that it can’t get any worse than that, but sadly it can as sexual and non-sexual harassment is on the rise in many workplaces across the globe.
Surely just the Harvey Weinstein scandal brings shivers to your spine and you can’t help but ask yourself – what has come to a famous producer’s mind that made him sexually harass and assault more than 30 women he worked with?
Even though the glamour of Hollywood sets might be a whole different world from a standard office job, it’s still a workplace and people come there to act and create art, not to get sexually violated by a perverted producer.
Apart from sexual harassment, non-sexual harassment is also an issue that isn’t really talked about that much in the media but is surely a daily occurrence, especially in multicultural workplaces.
So today we are going to explain what exactly sexual and non-sexual harassment is, what should you do if you find yourself to be harassed in any way at your workplace and also how the employers should create a harassment-free environment for their employees so that these issues don’t get overlooked in the future as they do now.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, which is a government agency tasked to enforce laws against harassment at work, and their Study of Harassment in the Workplace nearly 45% of the 28,000 harassment claims were sex-based.
Furthermore, at least 25% of women experience sexual harassment at work, between 87 and 94% of employees experiencing sexual harassment do not report it and 75% of them don’t want to say anything because they fear that it will get them fired.
Another key point which needs to be pointed out is that 15.9% of the 13,055 charges alleging sex-based harassment filed with EEOC were charges filed by men.
This means that nearly 16 out of 100 men also experience sexual harassment at work, although obviously women are more endangered with one in every four women experience it.
It’s obvious that these results are devastating mainly because of the fact that such a high percentage of harassment victims are afraid of losing their job and if they report such unauthorized behavior, the organizations which are in charge of sexual harassment reports often respond by inaction.
Knowing this, our question is what kind of behavior is considered to be sexual harassment and what do people need to know in order to prevent such behavior in the workplace?
It is largely believed that sexual harassment is the act of inappropriate touching of another person’s body, making sexual comments and purposefully brushing up against another person, but sexual harassment involves a much bigger list of inadmissible behavior such as:
- Sending or showing sexual content such as photographs, videos, pornography to other co-workers.
- Displaying sexually inappropriate images in the workplace (via posters, shirts, pictures, etc.).
- Flirting and continuing to flirt with a co-worker when he or she seems bothered by it.
- Sending sexually inappropriate text messages and e-mails to other co-workers.
- Making sexual gestures towards other co-workers and making physical contacts such as touching, grabbing, pinching, rubbing or brushing up against their private parts or other parts of their body.
- Making inappropriate sexual comments about someone’s appearance, clothes, sexual orientation or body parts.
- Starring in a seductive manner towards another co-worker for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and this is just the tip of the iceberg as there have even been cases of sexual assault and rape in the workplace and what’s even more tragic is that the victims of such acts are afraid of coming forward about it either because they feel ashamed or they fear for their jobs and their life.
To further explain what sexual harassment is, we’re going to go through some of the common behaviors linked to sexual harassment and see in what scenarios they can turn out to be a violation of someone’s personal space, body, and literally basic human rights.
We’ll start with the most common behavior which is flirting. Now flirting can come in all shapes and sizes but generally, it must involve that both people involved are comfortable with flirting, otherwise it’s just harassment.
Also, many people react nicely out of respect to the person flirting with them just because they are in the workplace and don’t want to start any drama even though they don’t like being flirted with.
This can be interpreted by the person flirting as a green light to continue such behavior and when they finally do get rejected they will get confused and start to act irrationally which can lead to sexual harassment.
This is an example of how flirting can eventually turn into sexual harassment out of frustration from being turned down.
Another more direct version of this scenario is flirting which instantly initiates sex, which isn’t even flirting but just harassment altogether.
Flirting not considered being sexual harassment:
- Calling a co-worker for a cup of coffee, dinner, lunch and so on.
- Complimenting their outfit.
- Making appropriate jokes about them which they consider funny.
- Teasing them in a suitable way.
Flirting which can be considered sexual harassment:
- Touching their hair or body parts.
- Asking them to go out with you when they already said no.
- Making inappropriate sex jokes about them.
- Invading their personal space and always being around them.
Please note that these things listed are sexual harassment and not flirting, but for the person doing them they are just flirting and that’s why such problems occur.
People need to realize that the workplace isn’t a bar where you pick up “chicks” but rather a place where everyone goes to earn a living.
Now, touching is a more direct version of sexual harassment than flirting and is a violation of someone’s private space and body.
Of course, accidental touching or even a tap on the shoulder can’t really be considered as harassment, but if someone is “accidentally” rubbing against their co-worker in more than one occasion than that can be considered sexual harassment.
Touching which isn’t considered as sexual harassment:
- Light tapping on the shoulder.
- Bumping into someone on the hallway.
- Being crammed with someone in a crowded elevator.
- Lightly pushing someone out of the way.
Touching which is considered sexual harassment:
- Rubbing someone’s thigh or shoulder.
- Rubbing up against someone.
- Touching someone’s hair, face, neck or head.
- Purposefully bumping into someone.
- Touching someone’s private parts and other parts of the body.
This list can go on forever mainly because any inappropriate touching can be considered sexual harassment for a number of reasons.
One reason being is that most people aren’t touchy-feely with people they don’t know or they’ve just met.
And because the office environment often involves people you never have seen in your life before, it’s natural that you won’t enjoy someone you’ve just met at work touching you and being all up in your personal space.
III. Sexual Comments
Sexual comments are also a form of sexual harassment mainly because it involves someone either making sexual jokes or comments about another person’s appearance, body, and clothing or making direct sexual demands such as wanting sex from someone, telling them perverted fantasies they have and so on.
Now, there are situations when sexual jokes aren’t considered as harassment and that mainly involves being close friends with the person whom the joke is about and because different types of people have a different sense of humor, such behavior might not pass as harassment.
On the other hand, when someone doesn’t really know the person that well and starts to tell sexual jokes or starts commenting on their appearance that is considered sexual harassment because no one is really comfortable with their appearance being pointed out in a sexual way.
Also, gossiping about someone’s appearance and the body can’t really be considered as sexual harassment but if flirting or sexual jokes turn from that gossip then that is really the start of harassment.
Therefore, putting an end to workplace gossip is of high importance when it comes to the first steps of combating sexual harassment.
IV. Sexual Favors
Another form of sexual harassment is the extortion of sexual favors from the employees if the violator is the boss or manager of the staff, or of other co-workers.
This basically means that someone wants to give a favor in exchange for sex.
Sexual favors may include:
- Asking someone to perform a sexual act for a promotion, higher raise, a better job position and so on.
- Threatening someone with firing them if they don’t perform a sexual act.
- Using their personal information against them, such as threatening to go where they live and harm their family, not giving payments on their bank account and so on, if they don’t perform a sexual act.
Generally, these kinds of “favors” are asked by people who have a higher position, mainly bosses and staff managers and are a great sign that a change of the current job is the only option because it’s a direct violation of human rights and also works rights.
All in all, these are the four main types of sexual harassment in the workplace and we’ve left out some more direct forms of harassment such as sexual assault and rape as they are more persnickety topics which, thank God, don’t as often occur as these more “mild” types of harassment.
WHAT IS NON-SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
It is widely believed that non-sexual harassment is a milder form of harassment in comparison to sexual harassment, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth as there both types of violations are not only dangerous for the mental health of the person experiencing it but also for the company itself as productivity shrinks in size in such environments where harassment occurs.
Anyway, non-sexual harassment is considered to be an activity that involves:
- Racial slurs and stereotyping of other co-workers.
- Making negative comments about someone’s religious beliefs.
- Insulting someone because of their sexual orientation.
- Displaying pictures and clothing which might be offensive to a particular ethnic group.
- Making fun of someone’s accent.
- Making negative comments about another co-worker’s disability or mental health.
Sadly, the list goes on and on and we are going to address three major topics which relate to non-sexual harassment in the workplace because they are the most predominant today and which will hopefully disappear in the following years.
Racism in America has always been a taboo topic, but after the 1960s with the ban of racism against people of color, things have improved for the better.
Literally, in any workplace, there can be found a multicultural staff of employees which is a great thing to see as it means that we can all get along if we try to.
Of course, nothing is always peachy in the office, and some people don’t like the idea of sharing an office with people of color because of some twisted reason they might have, also some employers conduct racial profiling when choosing the right candidate for a job which doesn’t make any sense.
Insulting someone on the base of their race includes:
- Saying racial slurs and offensive words.
- Discrimination of their cultural background and making them feel less worthy.
- Displaying clothing and pictures which may be insulting to other races.
- Making racist gestures towards other co-workers.
- Giving lower payment to people of a different race.
- Not willing to give promotions or better job position to people of a different race.
According to Pew Research, in a case study involving 3769 adults that included 1799 whites, 1004 blacks, and 654 Hispanics, 64% of black people think that they are mistreated in the workplace because of their race.
Also, 66% of black people think that the reason for lack of jobs is because they are being discriminated and 21% think that they are being treated unfairly when being hired or offered a promotion.
Do these findings correlate with reality and if they do, will things get better in the future is a matter of not just the government also the workplaces where such things as racial profiling and discrimination occur, but we can hope of the best.
Homophobia in the workplace has loosened up in recent years mainly because of civil rights activists and their influence on government officials.
Many offices nowadays are “Queer Friendly” meaning no one is going to be discriminated because they are of different sexual orientation.
In spite of all this improvement, there are still people who are homophobic and don’t want to work with people who have a different sexual orientation.
Homophobia in the workplace includes:
- Insulting co-workers because of their sexual orientation.
- Displaying homophobic clothing or pictures.
- Making insulting gestures towards LGBT colleagues.
- Not willing to give employees raises and better job positions because of their sexual orientation.
According to Stonewall, 19% of gay people have experienced verbal insults from other colleagues, 26% don’t even talk about their sexual orientation and 13% don’t feel comfortable about reporting harassment.
A good thing is that these numbers aren’t as high as they were a few years ago, so it means that we’re are making progress in overcoming our differences even if it’s on the basis of sexual orientation because as we will see later, religious discrimination is a far worse problem nowadays.
Since 9/11 Muslims have been oppressed and discriminated in every aspect of the social sphere and especially in the workplace.
Also, a massive increase of terrorist groups since 9/11 which are reported by the media all have a negative effect on how Muslims are being viewed and there’s no surprise why they are being discriminated in the workplace.
Islamophobia in the workplace includes:
- Insulting Muslims because of their religious views and the way they dress.
- Displaying clothing and pictures which are insulting to Islam.
- Making insulting gestures towards Muslims.
- Not allowing Muslims to pray in the office.
- Discriminating Muslims when it comes to raises and job promotions.
According to Weebly, islamophobia in the workplace is very real and after 9/11 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported to have a 250% increase in religion-based discrimination against Muslims, 69% of women wearing hijabs have experienced discrimination and in 2009 Muslims made 2% of the workforce but they’ve reported 25% of all religious discriminations.
These results are devastating mainly because most Muslim people are peaceful and have nothing to do with terrorists who kill people out of religious and political reasons.
There are many Muslim terrorists, we can’t deny that, but more than 90% of Muslims aren’t extremists and just want to express their religion in peace without disturbing anyone.
Even more so, not all Arabs are Muslim, the majority of them are, but some Arabs living in America and Europe aren’t religious because they’ve adopted a more secular way of life.
After knowing these facts, there is no reason anyone should be Islamophobic, especially not in the workplace and knowing that workplace truly is a multicultural setting in most of the companies.
Luckily, there are improvements when it comes to Islamophobia in the workplace, specifically when it comes to Muslims having space to pray.
As we all know, Muslims pray 5 times a day, and if we consider an 8-hour shift, they would need to pray at least two times in the office.
In many offices across the country, some rooms have been specifically accommodated so that Muslims can pray in them during working hours.
This is really a thoughtful thing to do for them as it must be hard for a Muslim to adjust his way of life in the workplace, let alone find a quiet place for his daily prayers.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SEXUAL OR NON-SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
The answer is pretty straightforward – you need to report such behavior immediately.
Stop thinking about losing your job, being ashamed that it happened to you or that you are going to feel the repercussion of the whole situation later, maybe even at your next job.
If you are experiencing sexual or non-sexual harassment from a colleague and if it is the first time it happened, you should report him or her to your boss or staff manager, but if it’s not the first time, then you have every right to sue that person and get them to court.
If the person who is harassing you is your boss or someone at a higher position, sue them and quit your job immediately because that’s the only way you’re going to get some justice which you deserve.
There’s really no reason why you should let someone harass you at your workplace and even less reason why you shouldn’t report them.
Also, if you see someone being harassed and it seems that they are afraid of reporting it, report it yourself because you may be next in line.
So the next time you spot sexual harassment in your workplace, be sure to report it to your attorney and see how the process goes because not all reported sexual harassment goes all the way of actually having a court verdict but you shouldn’t lose hope.
Non-sexual harassment should be dealt with by reporting it to your boss or manager and if that fails, then by going to court.
But as laws are different from state to state, you would be better off by changing your job if possible.
One more thing, because sexual harassment has been reported by men as well, and most men don’t want to come clean about being sexually harassed in the workplace as they feel ashamed of it, they have learned to deal with sexual harassment but they should still be encouraged to report such behavior because it can’t be tolerated.
As you can see sexual and non-sexual harassment can appear in all shapes and sizes, but it’s nothing the victim should be ashamed of.
On the contrary, the offender should be ashamed of such behavior and should be brought to justice.
Also, because non-sexual harassment such as racism, Islamophobia and homophobia can happen even when the person who is doing it isn’t aware of it, whether because of ignorance or some other reason, there should be moves made by employers and also the government to raise awareness about what behavior could be understood as harassment in the workplace.
Lastly, raising awareness about all types of harassment in the workplace might help the decrease of such behavior, as just reporting it isn’t going to make a great impact on a global scale.
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