Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is an unwelcoming attention of sexual nature.  It includes different behaviors from mild transgressions and annoyances to actual sexual abuse or assault.  In the workplace, however, sexual harassment is more about power rather than sex.


In the United States, there were two versions on how the term "sexual harassment" became to being.  One version dates back to 1975 when a group of student-activists in New York coined the term, while another account states that Dr. Mary Rowe coined the term in a 1973 report about various forms of gender issues. 

However, such discrimination could have been happened many decades before that, and were not reported at that time. 

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment

Any form of sexual behavior at work can be considered as sexual harassment if such behavior and action are unwelcome by the victim.  This offense includes any unwelcome sexual advances, sexual favors, and other offensive behavior of sexual nature.

Laws in the United States about Sexual Harassment

The offense was first prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was also the basis for the creation of guidelines set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1980. 

Under that Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or gender.  Sexual harassment, according to EEOC, is an example of sex discrimination under the Act.

In 1986, the landmark Supreme Court took a decision, when a former bank employee successfully sued her former superior for many instances of sexual harassment that ultimately lead to multiple rapes, became a precedent that gave legal rights to victims of sexual harassment.

It is also illegal under the Act for an employer to retaliate in any way against an employee who reported sexual harassment.  The employer also cannot retaliate against an employee who participates in later proceedings as a victim or witness.

A number of states have also enacted with own sexual harassment laws and regulations under what are generally referred to as Fair Employment Practices laws.

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