Special Topics in Safety Management

Can You Recognize Sexual Harassment When You See It?

Let’s see if you can recognize situations involving workplace sexual harassment.

In each situation below, determine if sexual harassment is an issue. Then scroll down to check your answers.

1.    A female employee wears short skirts and tops with low necklines to work. Is this inviting sexual harassment?

2.    A female supervisor makes frequent comments about a male employee’s physique. Is this sexual harassment? 

3.    A male supervisor makes a sexual advances to a female employee under his supervision. He promises her a raise if she’ll go to bed with him. Is this sexual harassment?

4.    A male supervisor makes a sexual advances to a male employee under his supervision. He promises the employee a promotion in exchange for dating. Is this sexual harassment?

5.    Two employees forward each other off-color jokes that they receive in e-mails. Is this sexual harassment?

6.    An employee asks a co-worker out on a date. Is this sexual harassment? 

7.    Two co-workers develop a personal relationship. Is this sexual harassment? 

8.    An employee posts a swimsuit calendar in his work area. Is this sexual harassment?

9.    A female employee posts a male pinup in her work area. Is this sexual harassment? 

10.  What if a good customer makes sexually provocative comments to employees? Is this considered sexual harassment?

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1.    No. Employees must abide by the workplace’s dress code, of course. But if the code permits this kind of attire, employees have the right to wear it without being harassed.

2.    Yes. Male employees can be victims of sexual harassment and have the same protection under the law as female employees.

3.    Yes. The supervisor is using his power and authority to gain sexual favors from an employee and offering an inducement in return for sex.

4.    Yes. This is sexual harassment for the same reason as in the previous example. Sexual harassment can happen between two people of the same gender. The key point is not the sexual orientation of the people involved but that the harassment is sexual in nature.

5.    No. As long as this exchange is not unwelcome, it would not be sexual harassment. However, if one of the employees objects and the other keeps sending the e-mails, then it would be. We should also point out that such exchanges might—and probably should—violate your organization’s e-mail policy.

6.    No. A simple request for a date is not sexual harassment. However, if the answer is no, the employee should respect that and not keep asking. Repeatedly asking for a date under the circumstances would be unwelcome and therefore sexual harassment.

7.    No. Employees are free to form romantic relationships with co-workers. As long as both people consent to the relationship, this is not harassment. Remember that only unwelcome sexual conduct is unlawful.

8.    Yes. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of sexual harassment, posting a swimsuit calendar is considered a “visual display of explicit or suggestive materials.”

9.    Yes. This is hostile work environment sexual harassment for the same reason as the previous example. It doesn’t matter if the visual display is of a woman or a man.

10.  Yes. Customers or clients can be guilty of sexual harassment, just as co-workers and supervisors can.

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