What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision, like the victim being fired or demoted. It’s easy to say you have an understanding of what sexual harassment is, but as referenced above, it is easy to misconstrue what one employee may find funny and another to find inappropriate.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) offers additional guidance on what constitutes sexual harassment, including the following:

  • The conduct of the offender must be offensive and unwelcomed by the victim.
  • Harassment may still occur when there is no economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim and harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

The Basics

Types of Harassment: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment

There are two different types of sexual harassment claims, although the manner in which a court will distinguish between the two for purposes of deciding whether harassment has occurred has become a little skewed in recent years:

  • Quid Pro Quo: Sexual harassment that occurs when a supervisor or one in an authority position requests sex, or a sexual relationship, in exchange for not firing or otherwise punishing the employee, or in exchange for favors, such as promotions or raises.
  • Hostile Work Environment: Sexual harassment that occurs through the presence of demeaning or sexual photographs, jokes or threats. The inappropriate behavior or conduct must be so pervasive as to, as the name implies, it creates an intimidating and offensive work environment.

So yes, harassment is not only of the sexual nature – it can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.

For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about being a woman, her body, or remarks about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. (See Hostile Work Environment above)

Because harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Employers can accomplish this by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, one that takes immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.

Businesses should have a clear and written policy on how to handle harassment within the company and everyone needs to follow it.

Further, it is unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII. The Nevada Association of Employers provides support to human resources departments on how to handle harassment cases, including an extensive training series titled “Supervisory Skills: The Fundamentals,” which is designed for supervisors and managers.

The training series reviews a variety of workplace topics, including harassment, discipline and discharge, and other issues.

A Trained Staff is a Successful Business

NAE offers businesses throughout the state of Nevada excellent training programs designed to ensure businesses can develop and maintain an effective workforce.

NAE offers training programs for HR professionals, managers, supervisors, and all other employees. We make our training programs available to members and non-members alike, but membership with NAE brings you these training programs at a discounted price.

If you like to attend a training or webinar with NAE, take a look at our calendar of upcoming events.