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What qualifies as sexual harassment may surprise you

Sexual harassment is sadly too prevalent in American workplaces. However, many individuals tolerate harassment because they're not sure what crosses the line between inappropriate and illegal. The truth: If you're wondering, it's probably over the line.

You may not know how broad the laws on sexual harassment are. Here are a few surprising facts from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

  • The perpetrator doesn't have to be of the opposite sex and the victim can be of any gender.
  • The harasser can be anyone. The individual doesn't have to be in a position of authority over you to violate the law.
  • The victim who files a suit doesn't necessarily have to be the one harassed. If your work or psyche has suffered due to sexual harassment-even if you just witnessed it-you can take action.
  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

You may have noticed the Committee doesn't provide a list of what qualifies as harassment. That's because anytime you endure unwanted advances, it is unacceptable and illegal. The law is on your side.

Since many will still wonder, here are some common examples of harassing behavior:

  • Sharing sexually inappropriate photos, images or memes. It's not funny when it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Making inappropriate gestures. Anytime physicality comes into play, an alarm bell should go off.
  • Making sexual comments on appearance or clothes. Your work should be the only thing your coworkers or boss comments on. Your appearance has nothing to do with your productivity.
  • Saying offensive things about an individual's gender. This is an especially big problem for the LGBTQ community.
  • Repeatedly asking for dates or sexual favors. It's not persistent. It's inappropriate and illegal.
  • Unwanted physical conduct. No one has the right to touch you without your consent.
  • Making suggestive comments, facial expressions or gestures. It's disrespectful and inappropriate.

Sexual harassment at work is never okay. Don't try to tough it out. Consider filing a complaint-or taking legal action-if you feel threatened or uncomfortable with how someone is treating you. In cases like these, the burden often falls on the victim to report what's happening. Speak up and demand the respect you deserve.

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