What Constitutes Sexual Harassment and How Does Sexual Harassment Differ From Gender Discrimination?

by Beth Greenwood

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment can occur in any organization, even though both are against the law. In 2012, there were 30,356 charges of gender discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which compares to the 28,534 cases filed in 2011. The EEOC received 11,364 sexual harassment suits in 2011, 84 percent of which were filed by women. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and gender discrimination may employ some of the same tactics.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome contact of a sexual nature. This behavior may include requests for dates or sexual favors, unwelcome verbal or physical advances and expressed or implied threats that if the victim doesn’t give in, her employment status may be affected. Other actions such as posting sexually explicit material, making offensive comments about men or women in general or telling sexually oriented jokes may qualify as sexual harassment or creation of a hostile working environment.

Gender and Harassment

Although most of the cases filed with the EEOC were filed by women, sexual harassment can occur against men, too. The harasser might be male or female. In some cases, men will sexually harass other men or women will sexually harass other women. The key is that the behavior is unwelcome -- consensual sexual relations do not qualify as harassment. However, if one person ends the relationship and the other continues to press for dates or sexual activity despite begin clearly told to stop, it may qualify as sexual harassment. The behavior must also be something that a reasonable person would find offensive.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination -- also known as sexual discrimination -- is making employment decisions based on an individual's gender. When an employee is hired, fired, promoted or her salary is affected because of her gender rather than her performance, it is illegal. Other examples of gender discrimination include any treatment that negatively affects terms of employment such as your position, title or training opportunities. In addition to employment, gender discrimination can occur in educational institutions – for example, if men are consistently given lower grades than women.

Harassment vs. Discrimination

Supervisors or workers in organizations where gender discrimination occurs may exhibit some of the same behaviors seen in those where sexual harassment occurs. For example, if the discrimination is against women, work areas may contain calendar pinups of nude females or sexually explicit cartoons. Men may use derogatory slang terms toward women or call them by terms such as “babe” or “honey” rather than “Ms. Jones.” However, gender discrimination may be directed against men, as well. Male nursing students in one study reported in May 2004 in the “Journal of Nursing Education” said nursing faculty made anti-male comments, referred to nurses exclusively as “she” and set different requirements for men in OB-GYN clinical rotations.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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