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Are Compliments Sexual Harassment?

Published: Sep 23, 2016 in Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be blunt and obvious or it can be quiet and hidden. Many men and women experience sexual harassment in the workplace but have a difficult time proving it. Part of what makes it difficult to prove to others is that it often happens behind closed doors. People who purposefully harass others do so when there are no witnesses to support the victim.

Another reason it is difficult to prove sexual harassment is that people believe there is a grey area between genuine compliments and harassment. There is always a question of when someone’s compliment regarding another person cross over into the area of illegal sexual harassment? If you are being sexually harassed at work, contact a skilled Southern Illinois sexual harassment lawyer at Cates Mahoney, LLC at (618) 767-6293.

Defining Sexual Harassment

People often become confused about what constitutes sexual harassment. Illinois law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances or requests for conduct of a sexual nature. Comments or conduct are sexual harassment when:

  • It is made implicitly or explicitly clear that submission to the sexual requests are a condition of employment
  • Submitting to or rejecting the sexual advances or requests are reasons used to make decisions regarding the employee’s position at the company
  • The sexual requests or advances affect the employee’s ability to do his or her job
  • The sexual requests or advances create an offensive, hostile, or intimidating environment for the victim or others

Examples of Sexual Harassment

There are obvious moments of sexual harassment that employees and others most readily recognize, including:

  • A superior asking for sexual favors in return for a promotion or advancement at work
  • A superior or coworker inappropriately touching another person, particularly their butt, breasts, or crotch
  • A superior or coworker making explicit sexual comments to another

However, not all sexual harassment is out and in the open or obvious to others. Sometimes there are subtle comments, touching, and hints that create an uncomfortable and offensive work environment for an employee. This type of sexual harassment often includes comments that others may believe to be compliments but that the victim understands to be harassment.

Compliments Can Become Sexual Harassment

A compliment is defined as an expression of praise, admiration or approval. In a work environment, expressions of this type should reflect a person’s intelligence, work-related abilities, and other professional aspects of their character.

Compliments regarding a person’s physical appearance, gender, or sexuality may be inappropriate in work environments when these types of comments are unwelcome to the recipient. A simple “You look nice today” rarely offends, but additional or more specific comments can make people uncomfortable. Over time, multiple comments regarding a person’s physicality or sexuality can alter the work environment, making it difficult for a person to perform their job. An employee may interpret these types of compliments as flirting, being hit on, and a desire for sexual contact – all of which can be intimidating if the comments come from a superior in control of that employee’s performance review, training, promotions, or raises.

Whether a compliment becomes sexual harassment depends on whether it:

  • Is welcome
  • Involves a sexual reference
  • Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

A compliment such as “That’s a nice blouse” will usually be interpreted as a welcome comment. However, saying “That’s a nice blouse, it shows off your chest well” is more closely related to sexual harassment.

Contact Cates Mahoney, LLC for Help

If you are the recipient of unwelcome sexual advances, call the experienced Belleville sexual harassment lawyers of Cates Mahoney, LLC at (618) 767-6293 right away. You deserve to work free of sexual harassment, and we can help you recover if your rejection of sexual suggestions has been detrimental to your position at work.

At Cates Mahoney, LLC we aren’t intimidating by seemingly tough cases. We believe in your right to fight back against sexual harassment. We were involved in winning a landmark $95 million jury verdict for a woman who was sexually harassed at work.* We will seek the best possible outcome for you as well.

*Past results do not guarantee future results. The outcome in each case is dependent on the specific facts of that case.