Defining Sexual Harassment

Since I spent this morning at a training session about preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, and after the latest high-profile sexual harassment case at Caltech I thought it might be useful to share my current employer’s definition of what may constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. In my earlier post on harassment I talked mainly about the processes that take place when it is alleged, but I didn’t include a clear statement of how sexual harassment is defined.

The following is taken from the University of Sussex’s Policy to Prevent Bullying and Harassment at Work (which is in the public domain):

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and involves unwanted and unwelcome attention of a sexual nature. This may be physical or verbal or involve the denigration of an individual on sexual grounds or by sexual means. Some examples of sexual harassment are:

  • indecent assault
  • deliberate physical contact to which the individual has not consented or had the opportunity to object to
  • offensive or derogatory language alluding to a person’s private life or sexual behaviour or orientation by innuendo, jokes or remarks
  • ¬†provocative suggestions
  • pressing an individual to accept unwelcome invitations
  • the display of suggestive or pornographic material
  • unwelcome repeated telephone calls, letters or emails
These examples should not be seen as exhaustive: any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the recipient may be regarded as sexual harassment.

4 Responses to “Defining Sexual Harassment”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The last of these certainly constitutes harassment but should not be asserted to constitute *sexual* harassment unless their content is sexual.

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, I think it is implied that phone calls etc would have to have sexual content in this context. There are other forms of harassment of course, covered in this context.

  2. Steve Warren Says:

    Caltech seem to have been quite careful in using the term ‘gender-based harassment’ in the case of Christian Ott. The behaviour described in the link in your earlier post does not obviously fit into the categories you list above, and I imagine this is why Caltech did not use the term. You will note that the writer of the buzzfeed post also doesn’t refer to Ott’s behaviour as sexual harassment. In saying this I don’t wish to detract from the aim of your posting.

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s a reasonable point. It might well be argued that gender-based harassment is a more appropriate term to use.

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