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4 clues to determine what is and is not sexual harassment

Sexual harassment isn’t just a woman’s problem. Anyone of either gender can be sexually harassed by anyone else, However, if you’re like most people, you aren’t sure where the line is between poor behavior and actual harassment.

Here’s how you can tell:

1. A single incident is probably not sexual harassment.

While there are exceptions to that rule, a single request from a co-worker to go out for coffee or a casual off-color remark probably doesn’t constitute sexual harassment. It might be boorish behavior, but if it isn’t repeated and there are no adverse affects when you rebuff the individual, you likely don’t have a case.

2. If the behavior stops as soon as you call it out, it’s probably not sexual harassment.

When you feel like something is over the line, you have the right to draw attention to the behavior and ask for it to stop. Look at your employee handbook for information on where to direct your complaint. You can also take your complaint to your immediate supervisor (or the person directly above that if your supervisor is the problem). If the behavior stops and you don’t face any form of retaliation, you likely don’t have any reason to sue.

3. If you’re treated differently because of your gender, even if the behavior isn’t sexual in nature, that’s sexual harassment.

If you aren’t assigned to the front desk because the boss wants “a looker” to be the first thing clients see, that’s a form of gender discrimination — whether you just don’t fit the mold of the ideal female or happen to be male. Any disparate treatment based on your looks or gender, such as less favorable shifts or more difficult assignments, can be considered harassment.

4. If you’ve been threatened, that’s definitely harassment.

While the first reaction to sexual harassment should never be quitting, that rule goes out the window if you’re facing threats of physical violence or retaliation so severe that it’s affecting your mental health.

Because it can be so difficult to determine what is and is not actionable when it comes to sexual or gender-based harassment, talk to an attorney if you have any doubts.

Source: Feminist Majority Foundation, “Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet,” accessed Aug. 03, 2017