One such example is a case where a qualified individual is denied employment opportunities and benefits that are, instead, awarded to an individual who submits (voluntarily or under coercion) to sexual advances or sexual favors. Another example is where an individual must submit to unwelcome sexual conduct in order to receive an employment opportunity.
Other conduct commonly considered to be sexual harassment includes:
Verbal: Sexual innuendos, suggestive comments, insults, rumor and jokes about sex, anatomy or gender-specific traits, sexual propositions, threats, repeated requests for dates, or statements about other employees, even outside of their presence, of a sexual nature.
Non-Verbal: Suggestive or insulting sounds (whistling), leering, obscene gestures, sexually bodily gestures, “catcalls”, “smacking” or “kissing” noises.
Visual: Posters, signs, pin-up or slogans of a sexual nature.
Physical: Touching, unwelcome hugging or kissing, pinching, brushing the body, coerced sexual intercourse, or actual assault.
Sexual harassment most frequently involves a man harassing a woman. However, it can also involve a woman harassing a man or harassment between members of the same gender.
The most severe and overt forms of sexual harassment are easier to determine. On the other end of the spectrum, some sexual harassment is more subtle and depends to some extent on individual perception and interpretation. The trend in the Courts is to assess sexual harassment by a standard of what would offend a “reasonable woman” or a “reasonable man”, depending on the gender of the alleged victim.
An example of the most subtle form of sexual harassment is the use of endearments. The use of terms such as “honey”, “darling”, and “sweetheart”, is objectionable to many women who believe that these terms undermine their authority and their ability to deal with men on an equal and professional level.
Another example is the use of a compliment that could potentially be interpreted as sexual in nature. Below are three statements that might be made about the appearance of a woman in the workplace:
“That’s an attractive dress you have on.”
“That’s an attractive dress, it really looks good on you.”
“That’s an attractive dress. You really fill it out well.”
The first statement appears to be simply a compliment. The last is the most likely to be perceived as sexual harassment, depending on the individual perceptions and values. To avoid the possibility of offending an employee, it is best to follow a course of conduct above reproach, or to err on the side of caution.