Misconceptions about what constitutes sexual harassment and who can be either a victim or perpetrator of workplace sexual harassment may leave some people feeling as though they don’t have the right to stand up for themselves. Harassment can come from anyone in a workplace, including peers, managers and even clients or customers.
Too many people seem to believe that only women can be victims of sexual harassment and only men can perpetrate it. Other people understand that members of either gender can commit sexual harassment, but they may erroneously believe that only a member of the opposite gender can sexually harass any given individual or that there must be some kind of unrequited romantic or sexual interest involved.
The truth is that any individual, regardless of gender or orientation, can be the victim of sexual harassment perpetrated by someone else in the workplace, even if that person has the same gender or a different sexual orientation than the victim.
The Supreme Court affirms that harassment is a non-gendered issue
There have been lower-level court rulings that may have contributed to the common belief that a man cannot sexually harass another man, for example. However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on this kind of case and affirmed that it is not the gender or sexual orientation of either party that matters but rather the hostile work environment that results that matters the most.
A female employee could face sexual harassment from a male supervisor or a female supervisor. Even if both women are heterosexual, it is still possible for harassment to take place. Actions such as making derogatory statements about someone’s sexual habits, comments about their behavior or their body based on their gender or insults about their sexual orientation can constitute harassment.
A woman making jokes at the expense of another female coworker because of her looks or dating history, men making homosexuality jokes at the expense of their co-workers and other similar behaviors could constitute same-sex sexual harassment.
Homosexual advances also qualify as harassment
Just like it would be inappropriate for a supervisor to ask a subordinate out on a date if the supervisor were a man and the employee were a woman, so too is it inappropriate for someone with same-sex attraction to leverage their managerial position to solicit romance or sexual favors from a subordinate.
Simply asking someone out may not qualify as sexual harassment, but offering a quid pro quo exchange of workplace benefits for a date or sexual favors definitely would. Repeatedly making overtures toward someone else or changing the way in which they analyzed or review someone’s performance because of rejected advances could also be a form of same-sex sexual harassment.
Anyone encountering abuse in the workplace should document their experience and report it to their employer. If their employer fails to take adequate action, further steps may become necessary.