• What actions are considered sexual harassment?

Employees have the right to work in environments free from harassment and discrimination. One form of employment discrimination recognized in the state of Michigan is sexual discrimination, which includes sexual harassment. State law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or conduct or communication that is sexual in nature under any of the following conditions:

  • Making a submission to a sexual request or behavior a term or condition to obtain employment.
  • Making a submission to or rejection of a sexual request or behavior a factor in an individual’s employment.
  • Conduct that has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with a person’s employment or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive employment environment.

The roles (victim and harasser) are not gender-specific; both parties can be of different or the same gender identity.

Although the definition of sexual harassment includes conduct and communications of a sexual nature, it is not necessarily sexually based. Sexual harassment laws arose out of sex discrimination, which encompasses discrimination based on the sex of an individual. Therefore, a person may also be sexually harassed because of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation.

For example, a supervisor consistently ridicules a homosexual employee, making frequent remarks about his sexual orientation and marriage in front of coworkers, clients, and other managers. The employee feels intimidated, and his work performance suffers due to the frequent comments. The employee does not get promoted, which he believes is partially based on his supervisor’s behavior and his work environment. This employee may be able to bring a claim for sexual harassment (in addition to a possible workplace discrimination claim).

The victim of sexual harassment may be unsure whether what they experienced in the workplace is sexual harassment. Laws and cases at the state and federal levels recognize many different actions that can constitute sexual harassment. These include:

  • Offensive remarks about gender in general.
  • Frequent or severe harassing actions or comments that create a hostile or offensive work environment.
  • Bringing attention to a person’s body or sexual characteristics.
  • Offensive and degrading words, comments, or sounds regarding sex, sexual orientation, or of a sexual nature.
  • Inappropriate or uncomfortable terms of endearment.
  • Inappropriate physical contact.

It may be difficult to identify sexual harassment, especially when sexual favors and advances are not present. If you believe you may be a victim of harassment or discrimination based on your sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney.

Learn more at https://www.sommerspc.com/employment/sexual-harassment/.

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