Sexual Harassment and the Hostile Work Environment

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Sexual harassment is a very real and sensitive issue in the workplace. In this lesson, we will discuss sexual harassment, what it means and what it can do to the work environment. Updated: 01/15/2020

An Unfortunate Issue

It's an unfortunate state of business today that sexual harassment is still present in the workplace. While there have been great advances over the years to reduce or eliminate this issue, we should not be naive enough to believe it has completely gone away. To fully understand and deal with sexual harassment, we have to first understand what it is.

Sexual harassment is unwanted sexual advances, obscene remarks or any other offensive sexually motivated material or communication. In other words, we can understand that any type of sexual advance from one person to another that is not mutually welcomed is sexual harassment. A common misconception is that sexual harassment only affects women. This is not true. Women can also make sexual advances or comments to men, causing them to feel sexually harassed.

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  • 0:01 An Unfortunate Issue
  • 0:47 Aspects
  • 1:35 Hostile Work Environment
  • 3:26 What Can Be Done
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Aspects of Sexual Harassment

It is important that we take a little bit of time to talk about this issue in a broader sense. You see, sexual harassment does not have to be physical or even sexual in nature. It could even include remarks that could be considered offensive about an individual sex or sexual orientation. For example, a woman might feel sexually harassed if a man makes a sexual comment about women in general.

Thus, the scope of this issue is broad and can include a woman, men or same sex - it really does not make a difference. Once again, if the advances of a physical or verbal nature are deemed offensive by the person they are targeted at, it is sexual harassment. And while we all understand that we can tease people and make some offhand comments, there is a line that is crossed when those comments create a hostile work environment.

Hostile Work Environment

Just because someone is mean to you at work or is always angry does not mean you work in a hostile work environment. Once again, we are talking about the sexual harassment aspect of this issue as it prevails in a work setting. In this case, that is what makes the work setting a hostile environment.

Thus, a hostile work environment, as it relates to sexual harassment, happens when an individual must deal with advances, sexual comments or any type of offensive gender-related language that is beyond what could be defined as reasonable. Two words that we must remember when we talk about hostile work environments is the harassment must be serious or pervasive. In this case, serious means that the advances are unwanted, and pervasive means they occur at more than one time and are frequent enough to alter how the people feel about them coming to work.

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