In general, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when acceptance or rejection of these advances, requests or conduct is explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decisions. We call this quid pro quo harassment, and an employer is strictly liable when its supervisors or managing agents withhold job benefits, demote or discharge an employee who has refused sexual advances or who has requested the conduct to stop.
Even if no job benefit is withheld, it is also sexual harassment if the conduct in question is severe or pervasive, if it is offensive to that person, if it is offensive to a reasonable person who is sufficiently similar to the complaining person, if it has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance, and if it creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment. We call this Hostile Work Environment Harassment.
For harassment to violate the law, it does not have to be of a sexual nature and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim's being fired or demoted).
It is often difficult to determine if the conduct that you are subjected to is just teasing or acceptable banter or whether it rises to the level of sexual harassment.
You ask yourself, is the conduct constant or relentless, or is it sporadic? Is the conduct humiliating, intimidating or threatening, or is it simply annoying or boorish? These are important considerations in determining if you have been the victim of sexual harassment. The more often the conduct occurs, the more likely it will be considered sexual harassment, particularly if the sexual comments are graphic or the harassment includes touching of private body parts. The key question is always, would a reasonable person in the employee’s position find the behavior offensive, severely hostile or abusive.