When Is Flirting Considered Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can turn a job into a hostile environment. Workers may also flirt with each other, tip-toeing the fine line between flirting and sexual harassment.

The legal definition of sexual harassment includes unwelcome advances or requests for sexual favors (quid pro quo sexual harassment). It also includes unwelcome comments of a sexual nature and physical actions such as touching. Keep in mind, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims these actions must create a hostile workplace.

On the other hand, there is no ‘legal definition’ of flirting. One person might welcome flirtatious behavior while another will find it unwelcome and offensive. It’s very difficult to walk the fine line between sexual harassment and flirting with coworkers, so it’s best to simply avoid this kind of behavior in the first place.

What Does Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Look Like?

A hypothetical example can further explain what might entail sexual harassment.

Jill and Fred have worked together at a Los Angeles bar for the last several years. Recently, Jill broke up with her boyfriend and Fred saw opportunity to spice up his dating life. Fred begins to flirt with Jill by complimenting her looks and by touching her shoulder. Unfortunately for Fred, Jill finds this behavior extremely creepy and offensive, but stays silent out of fear of losing her job. This behavior continues for months until Jill can no longer stand being in her workplace. Her job has become a hostile and unwelcome environment due to Fred’s actions, which in his mind, he considers harmless flirting.

Did Fred commit sexual harassment? While it would be up to a court to answer this question, his actions do have some of the common hallmarks of sexual harassment, such as creating a hostile and unwelcome work environment. If Jill had welcomed Fred’s advances, it might not be considered sexual harassment. Depending on the circumstances, Jill might have legal options for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer.

The Los Angeles employment law attorneys at Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C. can help workers who are experiencing sexual harassment.

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