The Differences Between Flirting & Sexual Harassment

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  • 0:01 Flirting & Sexual Harassment
  • 1:35 Crossing the Line
  • 2:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

People often pursue romantic relationships at work, which can pose a risk for sexual harassment. In this lesson, you'll learn the difference between innocent flirting and when flirting stops being innocent and becomes sexual harassment.

Flirting & Sexual Harassment

Meet Jack. He works at a local coffee shop with Diane. Jack is romantically interested in Diane, and he starts to flirt with her during work. Flirting means to act in a playful way towards another person that signals that you are sexually attracted to that person. Jack is a lucky man because Diane likes Jack, too, and welcomes his flirting. Has Jack engaged in workplace sexual harassment? In a nutshell, sexual harassment consists of either unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or offensive verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature.

Now, let's apply this definition to our facts about Jack and Diane. Jack's flirting is signaling to Diane that he is sexually interested in her. This flirting can certainly be considered a sexual advance, which falls within the definition of sexual harassment. However, we also see that our definition of sexual harassment requires that the conduct be unwelcomed. Since Diane welcomed Jack's flirting, there is no sexual harassment.

Let's change up our facts a bit. This time, let's say that Diane is not interested in developing a romantic relationship with Jack. After Jack's first attempt at flirting, Diane tells him she's not interested and doesn't appreciate his behavior. Jack stops. Although the flirting was unwelcomed, Jack still hasn't sexually harassed Diane because an isolated incident of normal but unwelcomed flirting does not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

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