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Defining sexual harassment and the workplace

When it comes to the workplace, close interaction between employees, especially supervisors and their subordinates, is generally discouraged in most employee manuals. This is the case largely because in doing so, it helps maintain a non-contentious, productive work environment where employees can focus on their tasks at hand without letting interpersonal issues encroach into the workplace.

It is only natural, however, that some fail to heed company policy. There are those that engage in communication or interaction that might take in a tone not deemed to be mutually respectful to all parties involved.

It is this blurring of the lines in between the workplace and the outside world that can lead individuals to make choices that, depending on another's perspective, might be deemed as sexual harassment. These choices can greatly impact their ability to retain their jobs.

According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, sexual harassment is defined as any "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature". Michigan strictly prohibits anyone's employment, public accommodation or services, including access to education and housing, being conditioned on being asked to or made to perform sexual favors.

This means that not only can one not be approved or denied education, employment, public services and accommodations based on the provision of sexual favors, but that they can not be elicited to continue receiving them either. Any sexual imposition is deemed to create not only an intimidating, but also hostile environment not conducive to fair and equal treatment and thus is rendered illegal.

In the workplace, a supervisor threatening to demote you for refusing sexual advances or being exposed to inappropriate touching, shown another's genitals or repeatedly forced to endure sexually-oriented remarks, drawings or photographs can be deemed sexual harassment. Likewise, if one is told that rendering sexual favors is part of their job description, this is understood as sexual harassment as well.

Although sexual harassment is most often committed by males toward females, females taking advantage of males and same-sex advances are also possible. If you suspect that you're been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, a Michigan employment law attorney can help you understand your legal options.

Source: Michigan Department of Civil Rights, "Sexual and other forms of discriminatory harassment," accessed Dec. 28, 2016

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