People often find allegations of workplace sexual harassment confusing because they don’t understand what constitutes harassment. Those experiencing harassment may not recognize that fact, and those engaged in harassment may have such a restrictive definition of sexual harassment that they think their behavior is harmless.
For a worker to effectively advocate for themselves in the workplace, they need to have a deep understanding of what sexual harassment can involve and who could commit an act of sexual harassment in the workplace. There are the three primary perpetrators of most significant claims.
Supervisors and managers
The scenario most people picture when imagining sexual harassment is a situation in which someone’s boss is inappropriate with them. Those in a position of authority over someone else could engage in quid pro quo harassment where they attempt to solicit favors from someone in return for workplace benefits. Managers and supervisors can also contribute to a hostile work environment by making discriminatory statements about one worker.
Anyone who works with someone could make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the job. Coworkers often contribute to a hostile work environment by making tactless jokes or alienating someone because of their sex, sexual orientation or romantic relationships. Those coworkers can be in the same role as the worker experiencing harassment or even subordinate to them.
Customers and clients
Those who patronize a business sometimes want to use their economic authority for personal gain. For example, a patron at a restaurant may try to get away with flirting that obviously makes a server uncomfortable or unwanted touching because the worker relies on their generosity for a gratuity. Clients, including representatives of other businesses, will sometimes try to leverage a possible sale or project as a way to solicit sexual favors or force someone to endure inappropriate conduct.
Businesses have an obligation to take reports of sexual harassment seriously. Whether it comes from within the company or from a client, an employer should seek to protect an employee experiencing harassment on the job. Taking legal action if a company does not properly respond to claims of sexual harassment can potentially compensate the affected worker and force an organization to change its practices.