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Sexual harassment isn't just unwanted advances at work

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms. Quite a few people associate sexual harassment primarily with a boss or manager who flirts with or otherwise engages in unwanted sexual interactions with their subordinates.

However, this is not the only circumstance that could result in sexual harassment and create a hostile workplace environment. For example, clients or customers at a business could be the source of sexual harassment, not a co-worker or boss.

It is also possible for sexual harassment to look nothing like unwanted or unsolicited sexual attention but rather like insults or jokes made about someone's gender or sexuality. These forms of indirect sexual harassment can cause a toxic work environment if not properly addressed by an employer.

No one should make you feel uncomfortable because of your gender or sexuality

The thing that many people fail to understand about sexual harassment is that it, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, it is the victim who decides what is harassment, not an employer or people who engage in inappropriate workplace conversations.

If someone makes you feel uncomfortable by making comments about your body, your dating history, your sexuality or other private characteristics, that can make for a workplace as hostile as one where a manager won't stop flirting with you. It isn't just workers in a field dominated by the opposite sex who experience this kind of harassment.

It is possible for members of the same sex to engage in this kind of sexual harassment. One woman could pass judgment on another's sexual history and activities, for example, making comments about her to co-workers that strain the victim's relationships with them. Men can easily create a similar environment for one another, from passing judgment on a man's history to making assumptions and jokes about his sexuality or masculinity.

You can take action against sexual harassment even if it doesn't involve touching or flirting

You don't have to prove that someone asked you on a date or expected you to perform sexual favors for work benefits to take action. All you need is to feel uncomfortable because of something someone said or did that relates to your gender or sexuality.

The first step, of course, is addressing the issue with the human resources department at your work. Unfortunately, many companies are loath to take action, especially if the perpetrators are management or if it involves a large number of people, which is common with this type of harassment. They could even punish you instead. If your employer won't take action to protect you, you may need to consider taking civil action to assert your rights against abuses in the workplace.

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