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Defining sexual harassment

There are many women in California who know that they have been sexually harassed on the job. Repeated lewd comments, unwelcome touching and requests for sexual favors are some examples of overt sexual harassment that could lead to a civil claim. While some examples of workplace sexual harassment are obvious, others are subtle and more difficult to define as harassment.

The subject of where to draw the line for what is defined as sexual harassment is a subject of debate. In fact, sexual harassment was not even a legally-recognized concept until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of workers' civil rights in 1986. Though the nation's highest court has recognized that sexual harassment exists, there is still a struggle to define exactly what it is.

According to a lawyer who was interviewed by NPR, workplace sexual harassment is behavior that prevents victims from performing their job duties. The behavior could range from inappropriate lewd comments to sexual assault. However, some argue that even relatively minor comments that refer to a person's gender could add up to sexual harassment. Frequent comments about how a female employee looks and questions about her love life could become uncomfortable. When these frequent comments escalate to things like a pat on the leg and an offer of a back rub, a hostile working environment could be the result.

Because sexual harassment can be difficult to define, context is very important. A lawyer who is representing an employee in a sexual harassment claim might help the employee to present testimony with all of the relevant details. A lawyer may also help to gather eyewitness testimony from coworkers who may have witnessed the behavior or had similar experiences.

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