Sexual harassment depends on the perception of the person experiencing mistreatment or harassment. Given that different people bring different values to the discussion about workplace harassment, some people will wrongfully claim that it is impossible to define sexual harassment.
As a general rule, in order for someone’s behavior to constitute sexual harassment in the workplace, it must conform to one of two inappropriate standards of behavior.
Quid pro quo harassment involves the unfair use of workplace power
Anyone who leverages their position or the work position of someone else in order to solicit romantic or sexual favors from another person potentially engages in quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo means this for that, and it generally involves a supervisor, customer or co-worker offering some kind of workplace benefit for a date or sexual interaction.
Simply asking someone out for a date or expressing romantic interest does not constitute quid pro quo harassment. Leveraging someone’s income or threatening them with the loss of a promotion or a job if they do not accede to demands likely does.
Harassment often involves the creation of a hostile workplace
Not all sexual harassment involves one person trying to solicit someone else into engaging in behavior they likely would not if that person didn’t have some kind of authority over them. Sexual harassment can also look like jokes, comments and abuse that targets someone because of their gender or sexuality.
Hostile workplace claims can stem from the behavior of members of the opposite sex or the same sex. What matters is that the behavior creates a workplace where one person doesn’t feel safe or can’t fully assert themselves because of the inappropriate actions or words of others.