What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Charles W. Miller & Associates

Everyone knows that sexual harassment is wrong and that it can lead to serious consequences if it occurs in the workplace. Some types of sexual harassment are very obvious, forcing oneself on another person, firing someone for refusing to have a sexual relationship, making continuous lewd comments or sexual requests. But some aspects of sexual harassment are a little less clear.

Touching someone else while at work can also be obvious sexual harassment, depending on where on the body the person is touched. As children, we are taught that places covered by our swimsuits should not be touched by others because they are private. This rule also applies to the workplace. But touching in other places can be considered sexual in nature as well.

Take for example the recent case in Oregon where a police captain touched several women on the upper leg. His chief stated the touching was not sexual in nature because the offender did not mean it to be, but several others begged to differ. A slap on the leg from one guy to another probably would not be considered sexual, but that is not what happened here. The captain touched several female subordinates on the upper thigh, and those who were touched said he either rubbed their leg or allowed his hand to linger.

First, it is not up to the person who is doing the touching to determine whether it was sexual or not. The person being touched is the one who determines if it made them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Second, because the person doing the touching was their supervising officer, the women probably felt more intimidated and unwilling to say anything about the behavior. Third, the upper thigh is a questionable area, unlike a shoulder or arm.

So even if he did not mean for his touches to be sexual, that is how the women perceived them, and that is what matters. The same goes for sending lewd pictures around the office or posting questionable jokes in a visible place at work. Maybe the poster does not find them offensive or sexual, but if others do, then it can be considered sexual harassment.

In a further twist to the sexual harassment case discussed above, the police captain was demoted. He is now threatening to sue the department, saying his accusers were retaliating against him for trying to minimize the overuse of sick time and overtime.

Whatever the outcome of this case, if he was inappropriately touching anyone at work, especially those under this supervision, it was right for the victims to lodge a complaint. The same goes for any Kentucky employee, male or female. Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of sexual harassment should contact a Kentucky sexual harassment attorney such as Charles Miller or Rheanne Falkner to discuss their situation and determine if their case has merit.


Is ‘inappropriate touching’ sexual harassment? Experts weigh in on Portland police chief’s view; The Oregonian; Maxine Bernstein; February 7, 2013

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