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Understanding hostile work environment harassment

Most in Minneapolis may only associate sexual harassment as unwelcome romantic overtures or sexual advances. Yet harassment in the workplace goes far beyond that. Any sexually suggestive conduct that contributes to one feeling uneasy at work may qualify as sexual harassment, as well. There is a name for this form of harassment: hostile work environment. The United Nations defines this as an atmosphere brought on by sexual behavior or actions directed at an employee specifically because of his or her sex that is both intimidating, offensive or hostile and impacts that particular employees performance.

Such behavior may not only be limited to advances or offensive actions or gestures. Acts that may qualify as this form of harassment include:

  • Open sharing of sexual stories or experiences
  • Prolonged staring or looking a person up and down
  • Sexual jokes and innuendos
  • Relating work issues to sexual topics
  • Referring to coworkers as "hunk," "honey," or "baby"

Oftentimes, such behavior is often dismissed as "locker room" talk, and that those who may take offense to it simply need to lighten up. However, federal sexual harassment guidelines do not leave any room for interpretation in this area, clearly listing the aforementioned actions as offensive and inappropriate.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one who has been the victim of hostile work environment harassment may hold his or her employer liable for it, as well. If the harassment was made by one's coworker, the employer may be held responsible if it know the harassment was occurring yet failed to do anything about it. If one's supervisor perpetrated the harassment, an employer may only avoid liability if it was shown to have done everything prudent to prevent or stop it, yet the employee failed to take advantage of any reasonable preventative or corrective action it suggested.

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