Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work?


Kimberly Dawn Neumann

About 5 million employees are sexually harassed at work each year. Unfortunately, in about 99.8% of cases, the victim does not file formal charges. Fear of retaliation is the main reason people hesitate to report in this day and age. You may wonder if your situation qualifies and find yourself asking “Am I being sexually harassed at work?”

Though sexual harassment in the workplace is not a new issue, awareness of it has reached higher levels recently. Still, 69% of women and 61% of men report experiencing sexual harassment in work settings.

How do you know if you too are being sexually harassed at work? Read on to learn what qualifies, and how to handle such inappropriate behavior at your place of employment.

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What is Considered Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), includes unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors.

Also on the list is verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, and non-sexual comments about a person’s sex. In other words, denigrating statements about women or men in general count as sexual harassment.

Both the victim and the harasser can be either male or female, and same sex harassment also qualifies.

Sexual harassment might look like grabbing, kissing, or threatening to terminate someone for denying sexual favors. Making derogatory comments about employees, texting inappropriate messages or photos, and sharing off-color materials online are also examples of sexual harassment.

5 Signs You’re Being Sexually Harassed at Work

If you’re still not sure if what you’re experiencing is categorized as sexual harassment, here are some more indicators and examples.

Inappropriate Comments on Your Physical Appearance

A woman experiencing disparaging remarks in the workplace.

There is a fine line between a compliment about someone’s physical appearance and a sexually inappropriate comment. As such, many people are unsure of when a compliment crosses over into harassment.

One clear cut marker is if such statements move beyond a simple “You look nice” to more specific work-related jabs.

Any disparaging remarks that imply you’re using your appearance to gain work benefits may count as sexual harassment. Comments sexualizing your appearance count as well.

Keep track of how frequently these types of comments come up in conversation. That will help you identify patterns that may develop into a hostile work environment claim.

Social Media Harassment

Someone committing social media harassment on their phone.

It’s not against the law to become friends with fellow employees or even your boss on social media. But how someone uses that information is where the harassment question comes into play.

Liking another employee’s profile and commenting on every photo they post alone may not qualify as sexual harassment. But, sending DMs after work hours, perhaps including unsolicited personal pictures does cross the line if it’s non-consensual.

Another thing to beware of is if someone is “stalking” your profile and using information they gather online against you. Comments made in front of a boss gathered from your social media profile may be harassment. Something like that could affect your reputation in the eyes of an employer even if you did nothing wrong.

Unwanted Physical Contact

A woman being held by a man as she is working, experiencing unwanted physical contact.

If someone keeps touching you at work, even if it’s not inherently sexual, you may feel threatened by their advances. The key is that it’s repeated and leaves you feeling uneasy.

Rubbing a person’s shoulders is an obvious and deliberate action of physical touch. Leaning in close to a person, brushing against their body, or physically blocking a person’s movement are other examples.

Sometimes physical contact may just be meant as friendly reinforcement, like a pat on the back or an arm around the shoulder. However, it crosses over into harassment when the action is unwelcome, repetitive, and makes the employee uncomfortable.

Once again, the key is to keep track of how often unwelcome physical contact is happening to you at work. A lawyer can help you fight against unwanted advances, but having an incident record will help solidify your case.

Sending Unwanted Gifts With Sexual Material

A man receiving an unwanted sexual gift from work.

Receiving gifts from bosses or other co-workers is fine as long as their intentions remain work-related and professional. But if you receive sexually-explicit gifts meant to objectify or disparage you, there may be a claim for sexual harassment.

Even if the intent of the offering is as a “gag gift,” if it makes an employee uncomfortable, it’s inappropriate. This is true regardless of whether the giver is a supervisor, coworker, or even a third-party vendor or client.

Any unwanted sexual gift can arguably constitute the creation of a hostile work environment. If a gift comes from a coworker, it’s appropriate to reject the gift and request that it’s not done again. If it comes from a manager or other supervisor, then they may already be going against company policy.

In either case, repeated gifts of a sexual nature that disturb the workplace environment may warrant a report to HR. If that fails to curtail the issue, then it once again may be time to consult with a lawyer.

Exchanging Work Benefits for Sexual Favors

A woman brushing her leg against a man, suggesting that she exchanges work benefits for sexual favors.

Any request that someone perform sexual favors to get a job opportunity is more than inappropriate, it’s illegal. Feeling pressure to engage with someone sexually to keep or receive promotions at your job shouldn’t happen.

Document any offers or requests for sexual favors at work. Every case of sexual harassment is different, but you will need proof when you report your claim. Detailed records and any witnesses who will speak on your behalf will help your chances.

Laws Protecting You Against Sexual Harassment

You may fear that reporting the situation may lead to an even more hostile work environment. In fact, 72% of workers who experience sexual harassment and report it say they also then face retaliation.

Fortunately, there are both federal and state laws that protect employees from both harassment and retribution.

Federal Laws

Per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot allow anyone to experience sexual harassment regardless of gender, age, or sexual preference. This is true whether the person is an applicant for a job or a hired employee.

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. This includes employment agencies, labor organizations, as well as the offices for local, state and federal government.

The EEOC looks into reported claims of sexual harassment through the parameters set via Title VII. But the bottom line is that this Federal Fair Employment Law protects workers from harassment in the workplace.

State Laws

In addition to protections granted by federal law, many state laws may apply to your case as well. However, they vary widely depending on the state you live in.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, one thing all 50 states agree upon is the prohibition of sex discrimination. Thirty-nine states explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Eight states go even further by requiring employers provide sexual harassment training.

It’s important to check what laws are in place in your state to further protect you from sexual harassment at work. An attorney can help arrange your case so you know your state rights.

What to Do if You’re Sexually Harassed at Work

You have a right to a harassment-free place of employment. So, if you’re being sexually harassed at work, it is important to try to rectify the situation.

Following the correct protocol will strengthen your case. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the abuser, make it clear that their advances are unwelcome however you are able.

Next, take the issue to your manager or supervisor if there isn’t any resolution after trying to manage it yourself.

You should also utilize any employer complaint system available. Check your employee handbook to find the appropriate person or department to whom you should report grievances. Try to get a copy or return-receipt for your complaint,  so you know they are in possession of your report.

If you are a member of a union, that is another potential resource. Your representative should be able to help you determine what steps to take if other avenues are unsuccessful.

At some point, you may likely need to log an official complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can complete this step online via the EEOC website, or a lawyer can help you prepare your claim. However, note that you must file within 180 days of the incident.

If the EEOC is unable to resolve your issue, then you may need to sue your employer for workplace sexual harassment.

How to Prove Signs of Sexual Harassment

The best bet you have for proving sexual harassment at work is tangible evidence. So, the short answer here is document everything.

That means keep any inappropriate emails, texts or voicemails you receive. Also try to gather witness testimonies from coworkers.

Additionally, it will help if you keep a diary or log of incidents. Include dates, times, individuals involved, and details of the occurrence. The more information you have, the better.

Also, keep records showing your complaints about the issue to management. If they do nothing to ameliorate the situation, you may have a case against your employer.

You’re Worth the Legal Defense With an Employment Attorney

If after reading this article you’re still wondering “Am I being sexually harassed at work?” you should talk to an employment attorney.

A lawyer who has experience with sexual harassment cases can help you determine if your claim is strong enough to proceed.

These kinds of cases are never easy, and each has different circumstances. But one thing is certain—you have a right to do your job in a safe and supportive environment. And that means a workplace that is free from sexual harassment.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit:, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann