Debunked: 10 Myths about Sexual Harassment at Work

When you think about sexual harassment at work, as a concept, what comes to mind? Chances are your immediate association involves a male supervisor engaging in some sort of sexual misconduct with a female subordinate. This association isn’t inherently wrong, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the extent of what sexual harassment can look like in the modern American workplace.

For all of its news coverage, depiction in pop culture, and discussion throughout the cultural zeitgeist, sexual harassment is still often bound by several myths about what it is, who is involved, and what can be done about it. Let’s examine a few myths people still have about sexual harassment and briefly discuss why they are incorrect.

1. Sexual Harassment Is Only Experienced by Women

While this is a popular myth to bust, it’s an important one because so many people still believe that sexual harassment can only be experienced by women and only perpetrated by men. The reality is anyone of any gender can become a victim of sexual harassment or engage in it against anyone else. In other words, sexual misconduct – legally – is not bound by the sexes, gender identities, or sexual orientations of any parties involved.

2. Sexual Harassment Is Only Physical

Another popular myth is that sexual harassment requires a physical act. Anything else, people who believe this myth may go on to assume, is “something else.” The truth us that sexual harassment can be physical or non-physical with no delineation in the lexicon between them. In other words, sexual harassment may refer to inappropriate touching, sexual comments or jokes, or a number of other behaviors that otherwise greatly differ from one another.

Non-physical forms of sexual harassment aren’t all verbal, either. Obscene gestures, stalking, the display of sexually explicit images or messages, and more may also be considered sexual harassment.

3. Sexual Harassment Is Only So When There Is a Specific Target

You might think it’s a stretch to call something sexual harassment when no one in particular is being targeted, but it’s not. As mentioned before, sexual harassment can manifest in a few different ways. Someone overhearing a sexist joke or has to be confronted with sexual material around the office (think about swimsuit calendars and the like) may feel as if they’re working in a hostile work environment even if comments or actions were not specifically directed toward them.

4. Good Intentions Negate Sexual Harassment

The intention behind someone’s behavior is rarely, if ever, taken into account when their sexual misconduct at work is so obvious or egregious. While nefarious intent underlies a lot of reported cases of sexual harassment, it’s just as possible for someone who doesn’t necessarily mean harm to engage in similar behavior.

A genuine compliment about someone’s appearance can be as offensive as one intended to make the recipient feel intimidated or vulnerable. Some situations, such as asking an employee out on a date, straddle a fine line: Asking once may be OK, but repeated requests when met with rejection or no response at all can cross into sexually harassing behavior.

5. Sexual Harassment only Happens During Work Hours at the Worksite

While it’s true that a lot of sexual harassment cases involve incidents that occurred during work hours at a common worksite, this is not a requirement. Sexual harassment can occur after work hours, on business trips, and places unrelated to work. As long as two people share an employer, sexual harassment may be alleged at any time or place.

It’s important to note that a company may not be liable for sexual harassment that occurs away from work or after hours, but the activity is a reportable offense that can lead to consequences for the offending party.

6. Human Resources Is There to Protect Employees against Sexual Harassment

This one is tricky because it’s not entirely inaccurate. While Human Resources (HR) is responsible for taking action to stop sexual harassment, the intention is a lot different than many people believe. HR is there to protect the company against liability risks, such as a sexual harassment lawsuit. It’s therefore usually in the company’s interest to take action if management believes there is a significant risk of getting sued, which is often the primary motive.

Some might think this is a cynical look at what HR is and does, but a company faces a dilemma when it’s confronted with sexual harassment allegations. Ultimately, management will do what is in the best interest of the company, and sometimes that conflicts with the interests of the employee reporting sexual harassment.

7. Companies Aren’t Liable for Sexual Harassment Perpetrated by Clients

If someone who has a business relationship with company is sexually harassing employees, the company has an obligation to take action to protect the employees when the harassment is reported. This is known as third-party sexual harassment.

Employers have a number of options for how they can intervene, but they must take care to not take action that unintentionally penalizes employees who report harassment. Sometimes the only option may be to drop the client, but employers who fail to take any kind of action may be liable for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

8. Employees Who Work Remotely Can’t Experience Sexual Harassment

As mentioned before, sexual harassment does not have to be physical and it does not have to take place at a common worksite. Consider any phone call or video conference the same as face-to-face interaction. Emails are regarded the same whether or not employees have ever actually been in the same room. This means even employees who are working in home offices and miles away from their colleagues can also experience sexual harassment in any of its non-physical forms.

9. Sexual Harassment Is Always Motivated by Sexual Desire

Not that it really matters what motivates someone to engage in sexual misconduct, it’s nonetheless worth understanding that a desire for sexual acts isn’t always the primary motive. For many offenders, the motivation to feel dominant or powerful at another person’s expense is enough to drive them to act inappropriately.

This is especially problematic when the offender is a victim’s supervisor, but it’s worth pointing out that subordinates sexually abusing their supervisors to flip the power dynamic also happens a lot.

10. Ignoring Sexual Harassment Will Make It Go Away

Sexual harassment should never be ignored but instead reported as soon as possible. Many people believe that giving offenders attention will only make things worse, but it’s often the case that doing nothing will have that effect. Chances are someone engaging in sexual harassment won’t lose interest over time – they may even see your apparent indifference as an opportunity to elevate their behavior.

If You Need Legal Assistance, Contact Us Today!

Employees who believe they are victims of sexual harassment should seek legal counsel from an experienced attorney. We at Limonjyan Law Group are here to provide the assistance and support you need if you have a sexual harassment claim. We can help you pursue legal action and recover what you deserve from the parties responsible.

Get in touch with us today by contacting our firm online or calling (213) 277-7444.