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What constitutes sexual harassment?

You may have noticed that recently, there have been several high-profile cases involving claims of sexual harassment, and Missouri is not immune. Allegations of misconduct have been leveled against many celebrities and politicians. You may think some incidents are not as bad as others, but they can all fall under the broad term of sexual harassment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains that there are a variety of actions and comments that may be viewed as sexual harassment. The yardstick by which these behaviors are measured is whether they affect one’s job performance, employment status or create a job environment that is offensive, hostile or intimidating.

Some elements of sexual harassment you may not have considered include:

A victim of harassment may be someone who just overhears or sees something that is offensive, whether it is aimed at them or another.

  • It may or may not affect the victim’s position at work; demotion, transfer or loss of a job are not prerequisites of unlawful harassment.
  • Both men and women are capable of committing the offense, just as both are capable of being a victim. The comment or action does not have to come from someone of the opposite sex.
  • Anyone in any position may be a harasser. In fact, the harasser may not even work at the company but could be passing through, such as a salesperson or vendor with whom the company does business.
  • The offense must be unwelcome; if you have fallen into a bad habit of trading comments with someone, then later say it was offensive, you may not have a leg to stand on.

If you are a business owner, you should establish a reporting structure for victims of harassment and investigate all reports promptly. Another step you can take to help prevent harassment is to conduct sexual harassment training for all employees, at all levels.

This information is general in nature. Therefore, it should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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