Discussions of sexual harassment often focus on scenarios featuring an uneven power dynamic. When the owner of a business or the supervisor of an employee is the one harassing a worker, there’s often little question about the right of that employee to take legal action.
However, when sexual harassment starts with coworkers rather than supervisors, there may be some confusion about the rights of the workers affected. Other people do not need to be in a position of direct authority over an employee to harass them. These are just two common forms of sexual harassment that may involve people in similar positions at a particular company.
Unwanted advances and flirting
Workers will obviously feel uncomfortable needing to repeatedly rebuff a supervisor who makes unwanted advances or engages in unprofessional, sexualized conduct at work.
When the person acting deplorably is not a supervisor but rather someone who works in a similar position, their conduct can still do real harm. It can make someone feel flustered and unsafe in the workplace, even if it doesn’t carry the same potential implications for their job security or performance review.
A hostile work environment
Sexual harassment doesn’t actually need to involve a component of sexual interest at all. Sometimes, the person or people harassing an employee simply reference their sex, their romantic history or their appearance as a means of alienating or abusing that worker. They might start rumors or make inappropriate jokes at that worker’s expense.
A hostile work environment could result from employees ostracizing one worker or constantly making them do the worst work. The people targeting others may be the same sex or the opposite sex compared to the people facing the harassment. Hostile work environments will make someone feel unsafe when they come into work and will very likely diminish their advancement opportunities.
Those who feel unsafe about going to work because their co-workers mistreat them due to their sex or constantly touch and flirt with them may need to notify the company about the sexual harassment they’ve endured. They may also need to prepare to protect themselves from retaliation, possibly by securing support when they address the issue.
Fighting back against workplace sexual harassment requires that one recognize it could stem from peer-related conduct and not just those in a position of authority.