Sexual harassment, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds to be very offensive may not bother their co-workers in the least. It is typically not the intent of the party making a statement or performing an action that matters in a sexual harassment claim but rather the interpretation by the victim or the impact that it has on them.
The interpretive nature of such claims may make you second-guess speaking to your employer about your concerns. It can be very frustrating to endure sexual harassment at work and even more nerve-wracking to have to speak up about such misconduct. Evaluating your experience can help you determine before going to Human Resources whether the situation falls into one of the two categories of sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment
Some managers or business owners will use their position of professional authority to coerce or bully another person into certain sexual behavior. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone in a position of authority promises workplace benefits or threatens workplace consequences as leverage when seeking sexual favors from a subordinate.
No one should have to choose between protecting their job and maintaining their bodily autonomy. Unwanted advances that leverage your career ambitions may constitute quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile work environments
No one at your workplace needs to express a sexual interest in you for you to experience sexual harassment. You could face harassment in the form of a hostile work environment.
Maybe you are the only female worker on a team of men, and they constantly make inappropriate jokes that make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Maybe your coworkers constantly make disparaging remarks about you. Hostile work environments can also result from same sex-sexual harassment. Co-workers commenting on your sexual activity or orientation could be one way that people of the same sex as you can create a hostile work environment.
You should be able to trust that your employer would stop such harassment if you were to report it. If they do not take the necessary steps to protect you, then you may have to consider filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. Understanding the two main types of sexual harassment can help you determine if you have an actionable case related to your recent experiences at work.