What exactly constitutes sexual harassment? If a worker is subject to sexual pressures by superiors in exchange for work favors, that is sexual harassment. Other forms of harassment are more subtle, and there is room for disagreement whether certain behaviors are sexual harassment per se or open to interpretation. In the United Kingdom, a recent BBC show addressed this issue with a group of millennials.
Individuals, aged 18 to 26, watch a drama about a man and woman who work at the same bar. During the drama, the group votes on whether the man’s behavior toward the woman at various points constitutes sexual harassment. Usually, there is a wide range of opinions among these viewers. For example, the man tells the woman the perfume she is wearing smells nice. Some viewers saw that as sexual harassment, although one noted that people wear perfume to smell good, and it was not harassment to acknowledge that.
In another example, the man places his hand on the woman’s back, moving it slowly down her waist. Even though the woman quickly brushes his hand away, viewers were split if that constituted sexual harassment. Some viewers argued that the removal of the man’s hand was enough to show the woman’s disinterest, while others claimed that without a verbal address, the man was not threatening the employee in any way.
The EEOC and Sexual Harassment
When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace in the U.S., one can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC describes sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The EEOC points out that offhand comments, simple teasing, or non-serious isolated incidents do not constitute as sexual harassment, but should the situation continue, or the behavior becomes severe enough that a hostile work environment results, it is sexual harassment. The same holds true if the harassment adversely affects an employee, resulting in their termination or demotion.
However, making offensive comments about women to other women is considered sexual harassment. A boss complaining about women being stupid, lazy, or any other epithet is committing sexual harassment, even though nothing specifically of a sexual nature is mentioned. In the workplace, a harasser may be a supervisor, co-worker, or a customer.