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Sexual vs. Non-Sexual Harassment at Work

For most people, holding a job is a matter of survival. You find and keep a job to pay bills and provide for yourself and your family. The average job fills up 8 hours of your day; yet, many people work 10 or more hours a day, five or more days a week. Being a good employee is a big responsibility most of us can’t ignore, which is why employee protection laws are crucial to the well-being of workers nationwide.

Over the past several decades, the United States Congress has passed dozens of laws aimed at putting an end to harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, many employees across the country still experience some type of harassment at work and may not know that it’s illegal. Some employees might not understand what type of conduct counts as harassment, or whether a specific act falls under sexual or non-sexual harassment.

Employees should stand up against any type of harassment because they have explicit rights to be free from discrimination and harassment. There are key differences between sexual and non-sexual harassment that make each type easier to identify. If you believe you may have a legal claim against your employer in Colorado, discussing your case with an employment attorney could steer you in the right direction. 

What Are Workers’ Rights in the U.S.?

Since 1964, the United States has had laws on the books making harassment in the workplace illegal. Workplace harassment is considered a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as:

Unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender or gender identity, nationality, age (40 or older), physical or mental disability, or genetic information.”

Men and women alike can be victims of non-sexual and sexual harassment. Harassment of any kind is pervasive and creates an uncomfortable environment in which it is difficult to perform your work duties. Let’s take a look at some examples. 

What are some examples of non-sexual harassment?

General harassment refers to workplace bullying that is not sexual in nature but which hurts members of other protected groups. In essence, any comment, action, or behavior that is threatening, insulting, disruptive, and which targets a person’s protected status may be considered harassment. Offensive gestures, drawings, or clothing may also be considered harassment.

  • Negative commentary about a person’s religious beliefs
  • Trying to convert a person to another religion
  • Using racist slang, phrases, or nicknames
  • Making offensive remarks about an individual’s mental or physical disability
  • Racist jokes
  • Teasing a person with a disability because of his or her disability
  • Refusing to accommodate or isolating a person with a disability
  • Teasing and insulting workers 40 years and older
  • Leaving workers 40 years and older out of meetings or events
  • Physical attacks such as hitting, shoving, kicking, or the destruction of property

What are some examples of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is the specific type of harassment which discriminates against individuals through uninvited comments, conduct, or behavior that relates to sex, gender, or sexual orientation. The following examples may make instances of sexual harassment more obvious; in fact, this is the most commonly-reported harassment to-date.

  • Sending sexually suggestive messages, photos, videos, or gifts
  • Displaying inappropriate images or posters in the workplace
  • Sexual jokes and anecdotes
  • Inappropriate gestures
  • Sexual comments about a person’s appearance, clothing, or body
  • Asking about a person’s sexual history
  • Inappropriate and unwanted touching
  • Offensive comments regarding a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity

At what point does harassment become unlawful?

If you’ve tolerated harassment and have asked the perpetrator to stop, you may wonder when the behavior becomes illegal? Harassment is unlawful when:

  • The targeted employee must continue to tolerate it to keep his or her job; or
  • The conduct is severe enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace to be a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is one in which unwelcome comments and conduct create an intimidating environment for the employee who is being harassed. 
  • Any instance in which a superior is harassing a lower-level employee and then changes that employee’s job title or salary is illegal.

Quality Representation from a Trusted Colorado Employment Lawyer

No one deserves to have their professional environment become intolerable due to the illegal actions of others. Harassment of any kind should never be tolerated. If you or someone you know is suffering at work due to the illegal behavior of their coworkers, managers, or others, speak up. If the company’s HR department ignores your reports or challenges you, seek professional support. A Colorado workplace harassment lawyer can determine whether you have a legitimate claim.

Attorney Nathan Davidovich, a dedicated Colorado labor and employment lawyer, has more than 55 years of experience standing up for those whose rights have been trampled in the workplace. Nathan is a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association and the Colorado Plaintiff’s Employment Lawyers Association. He has guided people through complex legal issues with many positive results and provides honest and personalized service to each client. Contact the Davidovich Law Firm, LLC for a consultation.