What is sexual harassment?

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII as well as various state laws. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature rise to the level of sexual harassment when:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment;
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual; or
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

Courts have held that petty slights, annoyances and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of sexual harassment. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile or offensive to a reasonable person.