Sexual harassment, especially when it’s happening to you or around you, isn’t always so clear-cut and obvious.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
But it doesn’t have to be of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can also include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.
And for the harassment to be considered unlawful, it has to be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision, like the victim being fired or demoted.
While these parameters are helpful, it can be difficult when you’re in such a situation to discern exactly what qualifies as sexual harassment.
When an issue is taken to court, for example, some courts determined that something is harassment using the standard of what a “reasonable person” would consider unwelcome and sexual, whereas other courts have used the standard of what a “reasonable woman” considers harassing when the victim is female, ABC News reports.
By these standards, sexual harassment is very much in the eye of the beholder.
As Daley Haggar, a comedy writer in Los Angeles, recently wrote in Lenny Letter, “Being sexually harassed by a sitcom writer is like being sexually harassed by your gynecologist. It can be hard to tell if the guy’s being a pervert or just doing his job.”
Of course, it’s not just comedy writers who have a hard time discerning innocent workplace behavior from sexual harassment. The signs can be subtle. Which is why we’ve compiled some below:
You experience behavior of a sexual nature that makes you uncomfortable
Ellen Bravo, who directs Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions working for family-friendly policies, told Business Insider sexual comments or requests that you find unwanted or offensive and inappropriate touching are the first sign of sexual harassment.
Bravo, who has extensive experience writing and training on the subject of sexual harassment, including co-authoring “The 9 to 5 Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment” and authoring “Again and Again,” a novel about date rape, said that this can include a number of scenarios.
For example, if someone:
· Stands too close and talks in an intimate way.
· Keeps looking at or commenting on your body in a way that makes you uncomfortable. There’s a difference between saying “nice dress” and “that dress really shows off your curves.”
· Asks you about your personal life, including your romantic or sexual experiences.
· Insists on talking about their own sexual experiences.
· Keeps trying to get you to meet alone outside of work.
· Shows you pornographic materials or tries to get you to talk about a sexually-charged movie or song or other such topic.
“The best guideline is the ‘uh-oh’ feeling,” Bravo said. “You think the person knows they are making you uncomfortable and is enjoying that power over you.”
“If you’ve tried various ways to say, ‘I don’t like this and don’t want to participate, hear it, or be treated this way,’ but the individual does not stop the behavior,” Bravo says this is a clear indicator.
According to the EEOC, simple teasing, off-hand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious are not unlawful. But when it’s become so chronic or severe that the behavior creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse work event, that’s unlawful.
You feel pressured to go along with it
“Either explicitly or implicitly, you feel you do not have permission to avoid or end the behavior,” Bravo said. “You may be told that the harasser is a rainmaker and that you need to avoid him.”
You don’t feel comfortable making a complaint
“You may lack information on channels for reporting harassment, or fear you won’t be believed, or feel embarrassed or incompetent because you aren’t able to handle it on your own,” Bravo said. “You may also be reluctant to get someone in trouble — what you really want is for the behavior to stop.”
You fear repercussions if you speak up
If you’ve heard or seen other people be demeaned, criticized, or suffer negative career consequences for speaking up, Bravo said that’s a red flag.
Comments like “she has no sense of humor or “she’s a troublemaker” are a bad sign.
Also, if you’ve never seen anyone commended for coming forward, and management ignores or downplays the issue, these could also be an issue.
You feel you’re being punished for your gender
If you suspect you’re being given different shifts, different work, or being passed over for opportunities and promotions because of your gender, this could also be considered sexual harassment, FairyGodBoss reports.