What is the difference between harassment and inappropriate touching?

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

While harassment may involve instances of inappropriate and unwanted touching, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching can be very different.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is where an individual in an authoritative position requires or coerces a subordinate to take some sort of action in exchange for an employment benefit or to avoid a job detriment. In these cases, the victim must experience an adverse employment action for failing to submit to the harasser's demands (e.g., the victim must have been fired, demoted, experienced a loss in pay or a removal of job responsibilities).

Hostile work environment sexual harassment involves any unwelcome sexual conduct that is severe or pervasive enough to alter the work environment. It can be of a physical nature (e.g., unwanted touching, bodily contact, patting, grabbing, kissing), verbal nature (e.g., derogatory statements, sexual comments, jokes) or visual nature (e.g., pornographic posters, sexual gestures).

On the other hand, inappropriate touching involves hugs, touches and other gestures of a physical nature, but not necessarily a sexual nature, that tend to make a co-worker feel uncomfortable and is not appropriate workplace conduct.