Workplace sexual harassment doesn’t have to occur at work

You’re at a farewell party for one of your co-workers at a local bar, and a manager from another department gets a little grabby with you. Maybe you’re at a colleague’s wedding and your boss insists that you join her for a slow dance – even pulling you onto the floor and when you politely decline. 

Are these examples of sexual harassment even though they’re not occurring in the workplace? They are. Any harassment by a manager, co-worker, customer/client or vendor is considered within the realm of workplace harassment wherever it occurs.

The same is true for social media communications. If a co-worker is constantly sending you suggestive private messages on Facebook or Twitter or making inappropriate comments on your social media posts, that can also be considered harassment that your employer has a responsibility to stop.

Off-site harassment can create a hostile work environment

You might be inclined to overlook bad behavior during a happy hour, on a business trip or at a softball game or other off-site event where people let their guard down. You may chalk it up to the free-flowing alcohol. 

One of the key reasons it’s still a problem and needs to be treated seriously is because it can result in a hostile work environment for the person who was the recipient of the unwanted advances. Even if the perpetrator doesn’t continue the behavior at work (or even remember it), it can be difficult – or at least awkward – to work with that person. The harasser may try to show they don’t have any feelings for the person they harassed by treating them poorly or not giving them the opportunities they deserve.

Employers need to protect their employees

Employers should state clearly in their employee handbook and sexual harassment training materials that it doesn’t have to take place in the workplace or during business hours. They need to make clear that certain behavior is prohibited completely.

If you have experienced after-hours and/or off-site sexual harassment – particularly if it’s interfering with your ability to do your job or it’s continuing even after you’ve told the harasser that it makes you uncomfortable — you need to take action. Talk to your manager. If they’re the problem, talk to their manager or go straight to Human Resources. If your company or organization fails to protect you or if you suffer retaliation, find out what legal options you have.