In recent years, the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment has been pulled into the spotlight. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 7,609 charges of sexual harassment in 2018, a 13.6% jump from the year prior. It’s an increase the commission credits to the #MeToo movement and rising awareness of the issue.

We often see questions about what types of behavior actually constitute sexual harassment. Here’s an explanation.

Types of behavior that can qualify as sexual harassment

Many people have an idea of how sexual harassment can look or sound. Unwanted touching, for example, or lewd comments directed at a coworker. Those aren’t all the behaviors that might constitute sexual harassment, however. It could include:

  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Offensive remarks about a person’s sex, even if not sexual in nature
  • Retaliation after the end of a romantic relationship with a coworker
  • Someone exposing themselves
  • Playing pornographic video at the workplace

Conduct might also include:

  • Comments and conduct of a sexually offensive nature even if directed at others
  • Favors granted to others who do participate in a sexual relationship with management or supervisory personnel

When this type of behavior reaches a point that it affects someone’s employment or position, interferes with their work performance or fosters an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, it becomes a discrimination case.

Reporting sexual harassment

In cases of workplace sexual harassment, the law can ask a lot from victims.

Those suffering harassment can usually help their case by alerting their supervisor or human resources department of the behavior, then allowing the complaint to first go through any internal processes that exist. Companies must investigate, put a stop to the improper conduct and protect you, the reporting employee.

If the harassment continues, or if you face retaliatory measures against because of the complaint, the case can become more serious.

Going through all of this in order to hold wrongdoers accountable can be difficult. It requires patience and resilience, as well as robust emotional and legal support. If you stay strong, justice is possible.