Sexual Harassment – Recognizing Unsolicited Advances

In a prior blog, we defined sexual harassment.  By understanding what sexual harassment is

  1. we can recognize it
  2. we can avoid it
  3. we can do something about it.

How do we Recognize Unsolicited Advances? 

Sexual harassment is deliberate and or repeated sexual or sex-based behavior (because of the person’s sex) which is unwelcome, not asked for, and not returned. 

Remember, if we take this definition and turn it into questions, we can begin to dissect an incident and determine if it was sexual harassment or not.

For example, when considering problematic workplace behavior that might be sexual harassment ask these questions:

  1. Was the behavior in the incident sexual or sex-based?
  2. Was the behavior deliberate, intentional?
  3. Was the behavior repeated?
  4. Was the behavior deliberate and repeated?
  5. Was the behavior welcomed and returned?

Let’s apply this definition to a case study.

Heather, a sales rep, has been with the company for several years and has been doing a great job.  She gets along well with her team and has been very successful.  Her sales manager, Jim, has been with the company for many years.  While Heather likes Jim, there have been many times when she has felt uncomfortable with him.  It seems Jim can’t have a conversation with her without making a sexual reference.  Over time this has become increasingly uncomfortable for Heather.  She has learned to avoid Jim as much as possible and deliberately tries not to be alone with him.  The unwelcome behavior, however, is escalating.  Jim is now propositioning Heather to meet him for drinks in secluded places.

  1.  Did Heather experience behavior that was sexual in nature? Yes, she did.  Sexual harassment can be verbal.  Jim’s sexual innuendos constitute a type of verbal sexual behavior.  By the end of the case study, the problematic behavior, the sexual harassment is escalating.
  2. Was Jim’s behavior deliberate? Yes, it was.  His comments were not accidental.
  3. Was Jim’s behavior repeated? Yes, it was.  There were many times when Heather felt uncomfortable with Jim.  This repeated nature of the comments also demonstrates intent over time.
  4. Was Jim’s behavior deliberate and repeated?  Yes, it was.
  5. Was Jim’s behavior welcome?  No, it was not.  Heather demonstrated that it was unwelcome by avoiding Jim.

Jim’s behavior is a problem.  It’s a problem for Heather.  It’s a problem for the sales team and it’s a problem for the company.