Can Sexual Harassment Be Verbal?
Your questions about sexual harassment in the workplace, answered
What counts as sexual harassment? Verbal sexual harassment violates federal, state, and local employment laws.
Offensive comments of a sexual nature, verbal requests for sexual favors, or unwelcome sexual remarks can create a hostile work environment.
Keep reading to learn how to recognize and report verbal sexual harassment.
Can sexual harassment be verbal?
Yes, sexual harassment can include verbal harassment.
Sexual harassment can include requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
Offensive remarks about a person’s sex can also qualify as sexual harassment.
Even seemingly complimentary statements about one’s dress or hairstyle can be sexual harassment if the compliment is unwelcome.
Verbal harassment often contributes to a hostile work environment, and employers have a responsibility to stop verbal harassment.
What is the definition of verbal sexual harassment?
Verbal sexual harassment can include sexually explicit statements, sexual innuendos, and non-verbal communication like leering, catcalls, howling, or kissing sounds.
It also includes sexual remarks about a person’s body or clothing, unwanted personal questions about a coworker’s social or sexual life, and telling lies or spreading rumors about a coworker’s personal sex life.
Unwanted sexual communications by phone, email, text message, or letter can also constitute sexual harassment. Finally, unwelcome invitations to date or have sex also meet the definition of verbal sexual harassment.
How to recognize verbal harassment
Verbal sexual harassment means sexually inappropriate comments and statements at work. These can include spreading rumors about someone’s sex life, making sexual innuendos, or pressuring someone to go on a date.
Verbal harassment creates a hostile work environment, making it difficult for employees to work. It is important to recognize that verbal harassment is not about intent––it is about the impact of inappropriate comments on coworkers and other employees.
Jokes that may seem harmless to the joke teller can still be verbal sexual harassment.
How to report verbal harassment
In most cases, the first step to report verbal harassment is telling a supervisor or human resources. Many companies have internal policies for reporting sexual harassment.
Employees can also report sexual harassment to the EEOC, a federal agency that investigates discrimination claims. The federal standard requires “severe or pervasive” harassment that affects the employee’s work environment.
State and local laws may set a lower bar. For example, New York State and New York City follow a different standard for workplace sexual harassment. Harassment that is more than a “petty slight” or “trivial inconvenience” violates the law.
What kind of harassment is illegal?
Sexual harassment covers a range of behaviors and actions that are inappropriate at work. This includes verbal and visual sexual harassment, unwanted contact, and quid pro quo sexual harassment, where a supervisor demands sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment.
It is also illegal to create a hostile work environment by harassing coworkers or creating an uncomfortable environment for work.
A sexual harassment lawyer can help victims of harassment pursue legal remedies.
What is harassing behavior?
Harassing behavior can be anything that makes a coworker feel uncomfortable at work. This includes verbal sexual harassment such as making sexually explicit comments, catcalling coworkers, or making sexual comments about a coworker’s body.
Oversharing personal details about one’s sex life or asking personal questions about a coworker’s sex life can also cross the line into harassing behavior. Obscene gestures or images can also qualify as sexual harassment.
The harasser does not have to be your boss. Coworkers, vendors, and even subordinates can be guilty of unwanted sexual conduct. These harassing behaviors can create a hostile work environment, making employees uncomfortable and less able to complete their work.
What does sexually inappropriate mean?
In professional environments, any conversation about sex can easily cross into being inappropriate.
Sending sexually explicit emails, spreading rumors about a coworker’s sex life, and sexual innuendos can all be inappropriate at work.
Similarly, pressuring a coworker to go on a date or have sex is also inappropriate. Intent does not matter when it comes to sexually inappropriate behavior.
People can be sexually inappropriate without intending to harm anyone. When it comes to sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, if the behavior is unwelcome, it is inappropriate.
What can you do about sexual harassment?
Workplace sexual harassment is against the law. If you are the victim of verbal sexual harassment, you can contact a sexual harassment lawyer for a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, back pay, and other financial settlements.
In the New York area, sexual harassment lawyer Charles Joseph offers free, confidential consultations.
You can also read more about your sexual harassment rights.