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Corporate “Smarts” – Subtle Sexual Harassment

Subtle Sexual Harassment Shows Up in Ways You Might Not Have Thought of, and Don’t Take it Lightly!

Sexual harassment is no joke, and while the typical stereotype is more of men harassing women, it is truly gender-neutral.  While the majority of claims are of a female charging a male with harassment, there are also cases of same sex harassment.  Sexual orientation is not the criteria; it is whether the harassment is based on sex.


Courts have upheld Title VII for cases of subtle sexual harassment in which a woman is harassed and discriminated against because she doesn’t act feminine enough. The same goes for a man who is belittled for having more effeminate mannerisms and gestures.  But homophobic slurs and remarks don’t necessarily “count” under Title VII.  Under current federal law interpretation, it may not be considered illegal harassment if a gay personal is teased and belittled for his or her sexual orientation.

Smart employers know subtle sexual harassment is “dangerous water” and it erodes trust, productivity and morale.  It is highly destructive to the corporate culture.

So what might constitute subtle sexual harassment?

-Employer or boss implying that a woman employee use her sexual appeal to “land the client”, or to get the customer to purchase.

-A male co-worker is constantly bombarded him with sexually explicit photos of women which makes him uncomfortable.

-Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing and unwelcome comments and repartee.

-Touching and any other bodily contact (i.e., scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing around the waist or even stopping an employee’s ability to move).

-Repeatedly flirting or proposing a date.

-Sending emails with sexual jokes nature

-Showing sexually suggestive objects or other items

-Playing music that is sexually suggestive.

What can an employer do to deal with subtle sexual harassment? 

It needs to be addressed in the employee handbook with specific policy, but don’t be afraid to talk about it. It must be addressed during employee orientation that it will not be tolerated in any form.

  1. Sexual harassment must be defined.
  2. You must make it clear in the handbook, including the homophobic slanders and remarks.
  3. The penalties need to be serious – even to the point of firing an abuser.
  4. You must have clear and specific  procedures for employees to file claims and complaints.
  5. Employees need to trust that a full investigation will take place.  Don’t state it if you aren’t going to follow through.

More Information

Nolo Press is a very helpful site for businesses to get more resources and information to help with this issue.

  1. You can read more on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  2. You can see a Nolo article Why You Should Create an Employee Handbook.
  3. You can define company policies using Nolo’s CD-ROM Create Your Own Employee Handbook
  4. According to a current issues update from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment occurs, “when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

From time to time we at Corporate Sedan Service will be posting important tips like this for businesspeople, business owners and companies of all sizes.  We believe in being a resource for information of all kinds for our customers.

Corporate “Smarts” – Subtle Sexual Harassment

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