Is an unwanted advance sexual harassment? What about a "dirty" picture or joke? Don't you have the right to talk however you want to? Understanding exactly what constitutes sexual harassment is not always easy. For example, the answer to any of the above question is a definite "It depends." Rather than throw up your hands in defeat or hunker down in your cubicle and just try to make it through your day, you need to understand at least the basics in order to avoid running afoul of sexual harassment law.
How to Deal with Unwanted Advances
On-the-job romance happens. On the other hand, every worker has the right to say no. Asking someone on a date, touching them, or making other advances toward them are not sexual harassment unless they are unwanted. Sexual harassment quagmires crop up when the person receiving the unwanted advance is not clear in communicating that the advance is unwanted. Thus, while it might seem more polite or kind to let someone down easy, to make your case (if indeed there is one) easy to process, you need to be blunt in letting coworkers know when they have taken your relationship to an uncomfortable level.
A Safe Workspace
Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable in their workplace. This right to safety trumps freedom of speech and expression. Thus, if you tell dirty jokes or decorate public spaces with dirty pictures, your coworkers have the right to ask you to change your form of address and to reconsider your decoration choices. Even if someone walks by while you are telling a joke to someone else who is A-okay with your joke, you can still be creating an unsafe workplace and thus still be guilty of sexual harassment. To avoid sexual harassment problems, it is best to keep it clean.
Quid Pro Quo
It is never acceptable to trade sexual favors for perks in the workplace. Even if you think the person receiving or extending the favor consents to the deal you have arranged, you still have created an environment where people might feel pressure to engage in sexual relations in order to protect or improve their job.
These are just a few examples of ways that sexual harassment occurs in a workplace. In order to keep yourself safe, you should talk to your human resources manager or a sexual harassment lawyer such as Campbell, Dille, Barnett & Smith, P.L.L.C. to find out how to handle sexual harassment directed your way or to handle a claim made against you.