Prohibited acts of sexual harassment can take a variety of forms ranging from subtle psychological pressure to physical contact.
One example of sexual harassment is 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 requests for 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 innuendoes, suggestive comments, insults, humor and jokes about sex, anatomy or gender-specific traits, sexual propositions, threats, repeated requests for dates, or statements about other employees, even outside their presence, sexual in nature.
- Non-verbal: Suggestive or insulting sounds (whistling), leering, obscene gestures, sexually suggestive bodily gestures, “catcalls”, “smacking”, or “kissing” noises.
- Visual: posters, signs, pin-ups 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 sex.
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 “reasonable man,” depending on the sex of the alleged victim.