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Can sexual harassment be subtle?

When you hear about sexual harassment in the news, the story may talk about overt acts committed by creepy managers and lecherous customers. While you may know that sexual harassment in the workplace is common in California, you might not recognize its different forms. Many types of sexual harassment are subtler than the headlines suggest. In fact, sexual harassment often starts in less obvious ways before increasing in intensity, or it may remain subtle, yet equally damaging.

As we have explained before in this blog, sexual harassment describes behaviors of a sexual nature that are unwanted and ongoing. Business Insider describes numerous subtle forms of sexual harassment, which you may not have realized qualify as such, including the following:

  • Your manager often standing uncomfortably close while talking to you
  • Comments or jokes about your gender or your body that you find offensive, sexually suggestive or demeaning
  • Casual touches that could be explained away as accidental, such as a hand brushing against any part of your body or hugs you find uncomfortable
  • Nicknames that are demeaning or sexist, such as “Honey” or “Busty”
  • A co-worker insisting on discussing sexual topics, asking you about your intimate life or trying to share suggestive content with you
  • Persistent requests to go on a date or meet outside the workplace

You might second-guess whether the behavior you are experiencing is sexual harassment. Others may think the jokes are funny, or they may say you’re being too uptight. Your co-workers or superiors might brush off your complaints as “no big deal” because nobody else has complained. You may need to rely on your own instinct to determine if you are being harassed. If the behavior makes you feel threatened, disgusted or afraid of further behaviors, chances are it is sexual harassment. You have the right to have your claims taken seriously. This information is not meant to replace the advice of a lawyer.

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