Do Sexual Harassment Laws at work protect you against harassment from coworkers, or just supervisors and managers?

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Question:  I recently started a new job and work in a field that is primarily male-oriented.  Some of my male-coworkers have made insinuating remarks about me of a sexual nature and they often tell dirty jokes.  I’m pretty sure that it is against the law for my boss to act in this manner, but does that apply to co-workers as well?

Response:  Sexual harassment is legally defined as unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is pervasive or severe and affects working conditions or creates a hostile workplace environment.  Words alone may be enough to constitute either type of harassment.

Common examples include:

  • Unwelcome sexual contact or touching such as hugging or kissing
  • Sexual remarks about a person’s body or clothing or sexual relations
  • Repeated requests for a date
  • Conversations of a sexual nature, telling dirty jokes or stories
  • The display of sexually explicit materials in the workplace
  • Derogatory comments about a person’s sexual orientation

Co-worker harassment typically takes the form of a hostile work environment.  This can be created by asking for sexual favors, making unwanted sexual advances or treating you like a sexual object.  In that case, the company is liable for the co-worker’s conduct only if it permits, encourages, or causes the atmosphere in which the sexual content becomes intolerable to a reasonable employee.  If you experience sexual harassment, you should make a report to the appropriate officials or the human resources department.  If you feel your sexual harassment claim is not being handled properly, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in this area of law.

Answered by Linda Adams

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