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Sexual harassment at work doesn’t always involve flirting

Sexual harassment at work can come in many different forms. For most people, the term sexual harassment implies a boss or co-worker flirting with someone who isn’t interested. Unwanted sexual advances can make people feel very uncomfortable, especially if someone tries to use their position of authority to coerce someone else into agreeing to a date or sexual favor.

While unwanted advances and solicitations are sexual harassment, they aren’t the only kind of harassment people experience at work. Sexual harassment can also involve people creating a hostile work environment, often through jokes or rumors. Those who engage in this kind of sexual harassment may not have any sexual interest in the person they abuse.

How some people create a hostile work environment

Joking with one another is often part of workplace culture. Unfortunately, humor is not universal. What makes one person laugh may offend someone else. While jokes aren’t inherently wrong in the workplace, teasing and sexual jokes that offend someone are inappropriate and can constitute sexual harassment under federal regulations. It is the impact on the victim, rather than the intention of the other person, that determines whether jokes are sexual harassment.

It could also be possible for your co-workers or even a manager to make your work environment hostile by gossiping about your behavior, your looks or your romantic life. Vicious rumors can isolate you and possibly halt your career’s upward trajectory.

When your mistreatment at work is a result of your gender or sexual orientation, it may constitute sexual harassment. Victims of this kind of mistreatment have legal rights if their employers don’t take steps to protect them. An attorney can provide valuable guidance.