7 Examples of Sexual Harassment at Work

Posted On: November 13, 2018

Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly multi-cultural, with people from different nationalities and religious backgrounds working at the same place. Sometimes, the unfamiliarity can become confusing and employees fail to identify what constitutes sexual harassment. Here, we will detail seven examples of workplace interactions that can be interpreted as “crossing the line”:

Examples of “Crossing the Line” at Work

1. Sharing Sexually Inappropriate Images or Material

While this is quite self-explanatory, it is one of the major causes of sexual harassment. Sharing inappropriate images or videos like pornography can be seen as an active sign of sexual harassment. Anything that can be wrongly interpreted by the co-workers as a sexual sign must be avoided at all costs. For example, an employee might have intended to show their physical fitness to their co-worker by sending them an image of their half-naked body. But people coming from certain social backgrounds may have sensitivities even to that kind of body exposure and they may not feel safe around you in future.

2. Making Inappropriate Lewd Gestures

This is specifically relevant to the gestures that are of an abusive nature but are also casually used in certain cultures. You must be aware that while the gestures may be of a casual nature to you, others may take them in their literal sense. Additionally, some gestures have different meanings in different cultures. Therefore, it is important that you don’t throw any such gestures at the people you are not fully familiar with and don’t know much about.

3. Making Sexual Comments about Appearance, Clothing, or Body Parts

Sexual comments about a person’s appearance, clothing, and body can be quickly interpreted as a crossing of the line. While there is no harm in complimenting a person who is looking especially good, awarding them with adjectives that may have sexual inclinations can be perceived wrongly and can land you in a lot of trouble.

4. Making Offensive Comment about Someone’s Gender

At the workplace, the only appropriate way to judge the person is by their work. You must not make sweeping judgments or offensive comments about gender, especially that if your co-workers. By doing so, you can make it really uncomfortable for your colleagues to work alongside you.

5. Repeatedly Asking for Dates or Asking for Sexual Favors

Although there is no harm in letting others know about your feelings for them, you must do so in a very subtle way. Once is always enough in such cases. Repeatedly asking for dates or sexual favors will not only make you come off as annoying and hamper your chances with them, but can also quickly land you in hot water.

6. Making Sexually Offensive Gestures, Remarks or Facial expressions

As mentioned earlier, you must keep your gestures, remarks, and facial expressions in check as long as you are not completely familiar with the other person’s background. There is a huge possibility that even a casual comment that may not have any sexual inclinations in your culture may mean completely different in other cultures. Therefore, if you are not sure about other person’s nature and background, you must avoid any such gestures, remarks, and facial expressions in their presence.

7. Inappropriate and Suggestive Physical Contact

Always maintain a safe physical distance between you and your co-workers. Any physical contact beyond handshakes should be avoided at all costs. Even with handshakes, if you are in doubt of the other person’s religious or social inclinations, you must not make a move unless they themselves offer their hand.

How to Handle Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a bigger problem than most might think. Not only does it have a psychological effect on the victim, but it can also affect their productivity, eventually impacting the profitability of the business.

Furthermore, if the problem persists, it can be a serious blow to the company’s image. Therefore, it is important that once the problem surfaces, it is rectified as soon as possible. Severe remedial and precautionary measures should be taken so that it doesn’t happen again. These measures include:

Listen to the Victim

Once an issue of this nature arises, it is important that you take the victim into confidence and know as many details about the problem as possible. You must also enquire after the possibility of other victims in the office, taking into consideration their accounts in as well.

Listen to Perpetrator

While listening to the victim is important to know details about the crime, listening to the perpetrator can help you understand the cause of the unfortunate incident. Perhaps, you would realize that your workforce lacks the basic knowledge of what constitutes as sexual harassment.

Based on this knowledge, you can chart out your future course of action, such as training workshops, and other employee awareness programs.

Take Strict Action

Once the nature of the crime has been established, it is important that strict action is taken against the perpetrator. This is important to set an example for other people so that any further incidents can be avoided. In order to truly root out the problem, the company can also take legal action against the aggressor and make sure that their behavior is recorded in their permanent records. This way, the victims and other employees who may have felt similarly abused, will be comforted knowing that their abuser has been punished. This would also serve as a strong message to any potential perpetrators that such behavior is intolerable.


Sexual harassment is a big subject. There are even certain cultural and religious aspects attached to it at times. For example, a particular act may not amount to much in one culture, but in another, it may translate as a sexual advance. Many times employees are unaware of these small aspects. Therefore, a comprehensive training course that covers all the different aspects pertaining to sexual harassment can be a great solution.

What Is the Role of Sexual Harassment Training at the Workplace?

Because of their comprehensive nature, sexual harassment training courses have been increasingly gaining relevance. Some states like California, New York, Delaware, and Maine have made it mandatory for employers to provide sexual harassment training to their workforce.  States where it is not a legal requirement also encourage these efforts. A good training course of this nature would cover a wide range of topics relevant to sexual harassment. It would educate employees in aspects such as the definitions and degrees of sexual harassment, stereotypes, and misconceptions associated with abuse as well as how to deal with such a situation. In addition to being beneficial to employees, these comprehensive courses are also geared towards company owners and administrators. These programs cover topics such as the proper handling of a complaint, investigating harassment claims, and creation of policies and procedures to prevent abuse incidents from taking place again.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Changing the Workplace Culture through Awareness and Training

Sexual harassment training is extremely important. It is essential to keep the work environment safe and healthy for all employees. These training courses can clear all the misconceptions and confusions one may have regarding the subject. For instance, in a multicultural environment, people are not completely aware of the different sensitivities their co-workers may possess. A good training course can help educate employees about all such aspects. More than employees, it is important that the employers participate in the course as well. These courses can teach the employers important skills like incident management and investigations, which will aid them in dealing with such scenarios better. Moreover, as a Harvard Business Review Suggests, the participation of employers in such training programs can significantly increase the interest of their employees in the program. This eventually results in the workers learning much more than they would have otherwise. Therefore, while signing your employees up for a sexual harassment training course is a great first step, it’s important that the employers and workplace leaders, too, completely submit themselves to the program.

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