When Is It Really Sexual Harassment?

sexual harassment policy guidelines

As an HR Manager, “Sexual Harassment” is one of those phrases that makes you close your eyes, breath deeply and wonder where the sudden migraine came from. One of most sensitive charges, it seems to lurk eternally somewhere just under the surface in an office setting, yet it is one of the hardest accusations to prove.

I was going through a post on the evil hr lady and what I think is that while some actions are blatant and can be easily tagged as harassment, there is so much grey area and things can often be subjective.

What about the guy who casts an appreciative look at the new girl from purchasing in her “dress down Friday” skin tight jeans? Is this considered harassment, or should she be criticized for not dressing more appropriately? Should he be drug down to HR and lashed, or pulled to the side for a quick non-official reprimand?

sexual harassment of men at workplace

I think that many in the HR field would say it depends on the perception of the event by the recipient. But judging by the data from The Society for Human Resources Management, sexual harassment is a major issue for companies. They report that 97% of companies have a documented sexual harassment policy, and a whopping 62% have instituted sexual harassment prevention training.

This may seem very responsible at first glance, but to me it begs the question—why has this become such a big issue? I think in the new millennium, the lines of propriety have been blurred so much so, that many people are not sure just what’s allowed anymore. Add to that the over-hyped sexuality of television dramas which are rife with workplace romance and the scene is ripe for trouble.

When investigating sexual harassment claims, some are very legitimate and unprovoked. However, my “unscientific” observations have also noted the following reasons that people end up in HR for harassment: 

  • The parties involved had a consensual relationship, often casual, but sometimes long-term. The problem is that things have now soured and the relationship has gone south. Unfortunately as things crash and burn, one individual may not feel like letting go. This is made so much worse if they maintain close proximity at work.
  • Cultural or religious differences in what is appropriate can also be a common cause of sexual harassment complaints. Some people may feel it impolite not to touch someone when speaking to them, while another person feels it violates personal boundaries.
  • The Office Party gone bad. This is a tough one. Often the company will host a meeting, conference, or party at which drinks are served after five. While a popular practice, mixing stressed out execs with booze may not be the wisest choice. If people under the influence decide to “hook up”, they will often be embarrassed about their behavior the next day. But if one of them thinks that they have been given free license going forward, this could spell trouble for work relations.

Another interesting factor is that the number of men filing claims of sexual harassment is steadily on the rise. This can be attributed to the increase of females in power roles, but know that in only 59% of cases was the accused a woman. Men complaining of sexual harassment from other men make up 41% of all cases brought by males.

*Other interesting statistics found at Sexual harassment Support include:

31% of the female workers reported they had been harassed at work

7% of the male workers reported they had been harassed at work

62% of targets took no action

100% of women reported the harasser was a man

59% of men reported the harasser was a woman

41% of men reported the harasser was another man

Of the women who had been harassed:

43% were harassed by a supervisor

27% were harassed by an employee senior to them

19% were harassed by a coworker at their level

8% were harassed by a junior employee

The most alarming of the statistics above are the ones that state that 62% took no action and a combined 70% were harassed by a supervisor or senior employee. These are alarming numbers and we as HR professionals really should dialogue on how to combat this issue.

So what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my “unscientific observations” about the cause of some harassment claims? Also, how do we combat executives preying on subordinates and encourage those who have been harassed to come forward?

Let’s talk.

Amit Bhagria
This Aint Your Daddy’s HR Do I have your attention? Good, because we are in the mist of an HR revolution. It’s either join up, or be left in the dust. What do I mean by this? Well, gone are the days of Human Resources representing the company’s interests solely. The new age HR Manager is an inclusive individual, serving the collective needs of both employer and employee. In the new “collaborative” workplace, an HR Manager wears many more hats than in years past. It can be debated as to whether this is a result of a disgruntled workforce staging a collective mutiny, or the evolution of HR professionals. Either way, the time has come. Join me on the other side. Subscribe to my Newsletter to get updates from the world of Human Resource Management.
Amit Bhagria
Amit Bhagria
Amit Bhagria


  1. kunwar singh says

    Not totally agree, We need to work on it exclusively in different different organisation with the help of a structured questionnaire

  2. Joyce says

    Hi Amit,

    Sexual Harassment as it is in the legal framework is one thing but when we are faced with the situation it avers to be much more difficult to tackle.

    It is indeed true that in most cases the harrassers are higher in the hierarchy and they harrass in a very subtle way. It gives them not only the power and authority that go with their status in the company but also the trust and friendship of their colleagues and the big boss!

    So how do we combat sexual harassment and encourage people to speak up? Here are some of my thoughts:

    One way is to organise workshops for all management, supervisors and employees. It should be jointly organised by the Company (General Manager / HR Manager) and a Government Legal Officer. In so doing, it will achieve four things (1) everybody will speak the same language when talking about Sexual Harassment (2) it will give a clear indication and commitment through the GM/HRM that Sexual Harrassment will not be tolerated in the company (3) the provisions of the law and likely consequences (4) views, discussions, suggestions, ethical conduct and commitment from their part.

    Adopt an open door policy meaning adopt a free and open conversation but also literaly leaving the door open while talking unless it is ultra private and one can use a glass-cubicle.

    Just like we have monthly medical visit we can opt for monthly session with a psychologist. A sound mind in a sound body! Most of the Executives spend most of their time at the office resulting in less family and social life and more problems in their married life. I know about a case where 2 Executives were called abroad to finalise an agreement. One of them were filing a divorce case and as you pointed out after meeting…drinks and others. This resulted in a Sexual Harassment case when the lady dropped the divorce case and return with the husband while the other Executive did not want to.

    People will come out and speak openly about being harrased only if they feel that the person to whom they can confide in IS a real professional with ethics. They want to be reassured that they will be provided any assistance and that they will be listened and not be judged.

    Amit, as HR Professionals we would also require special training on how to handle the person’s emotions and psychological state i.e. the right words and actions.

    One last thing Amit, what if the HR Manager is the Harrasser?? Are there any International code of ethics for HR Professionals?

    Send me your views.

    Best regards,

  3. says

    Nowadays girls are working in any field along with the boys. But Sexual harassment at the workplace is now very common. Every day we read in news paper that a number of girls are victim of Sexual harassment at the workplace.

  4. tootsie says


    I am witness to several harassment by superiors to new employees. I remind the latter to be cautious and that they could complain if they find the act offending.

    I agree that a mechanism must be established in the office at the soonest possible time. That way women and men workers are likely empowered.

  5. Marx says

    Again am coming back to the interpretation, you might argue that there are so many cases of sexual harassment but people will have different interpretation regarding SH, this is what brings the number up. someone will do something knowing that this is a normal thing but the victim will interpret it as harassment so apart from having documentation in place the training as to the interpretation should be regularly done.

  6. Hirut says

    Hi Amit

    This is an illegal to force someone by using the position as a means for harassment. Most of the time, this forced harassment has been practicing by male bosses, but now as you mentioned the statistics above things have changed and I am really surprised to hear such a thing.

  7. Darsh says

    how we should identify whether its realy sexual harassment or defamation by a person towards their collegues or managers.

  8. Daniel says

    Hi Amit

    Below is my overview of sexual harassment:

    Sexual harassment in the workplace or work-related situation refers to
    engaging in unwelcome sexually-determined / sexually motivated behaviour
    towards a fellow employee or prospective employee. Such unwelcome
    behaviour can be verbal or otherwise.

    Sexual harassment is a highly emotive and slippery issue because of its
    nature, societal bias i.e how society perceives the complainant/victim
    thereafter, how the perpetrator reacts and the organisation’s commitment
    to stump out this immoral practice.

    For management of sexual harassment to be easy and effective, the
    organisation has be committed to deal with this misconduct seriously;
    fairly; without fear or favour; and conclusively; despite who is
    involved and the work community has to be well informed of its rights
    and obligations in this respect. Thorough and sober, that is
    unbiased-cum-unemotional, investigations have to be conducted into
    alleged acts of sexual harassment. Perpetrators have to get befitting
    disciplinary action, whilst confirmed victims have to be protected by
    the organisation through its rules and regulations.


  9. sheyi says

    i see SH at workplace as been allowed and this depend on the peculiarity of region and type of industry.

    beyond rules and regulations i see the work environ and office structure as very important, dress code policy, relationship management, line process monitoring and proper interpretation of same, regular review and corporate compliance to this.

  10. says

    This sexual harasment is true but it just and maximum up to the lady working in organization, beacause when coworkeer or senior and junior come to office with not full covering.not wear full address,an extra clothe not on the breast, then tell me how a man can control himself, he definitely want to do something,that is sexual harasment,it is just upto the lady that how they are in front of men while working.Actually women herself attact a amn

  11. Ravikant says

    Sometime its happence due to western living style but in my point of view as student of psycology its due to media and todys lifestyle is responsible 4 such case

  12. Sukhadev Sathe says

    Hi Amit Sir,

    It is naturally says that the women workers are in the men workers would be sexually harassed. But controlling the situation is the key activity of senior management like HR Managers.

    I think every organisation has to develop their induction program on the same which can improve the mentality of sufferer to fight against it and from day one he/she will prepare their mindset

    Secondly the open complaining system like by SMS and by mail or suggestion box on the basis of name would not published should be implemented in organisation.

    The harasser, who declared first victim should be punish hard can be sent a message between the employees that it will not be acceptable.

    While investigating the thing HR Manager should take care of that no body should bios to the men/women workers.

    I think the strictness of senior authority on same issue can PREVENT the harasser atleast 50%

    “Discipline makes everyone perfect” so develop your organisation environment in friendly manner with discipline.

  13. anand says

    In the changing scenario this is true.A female boss can also use their power to force someone i m agree with that.It may be bcs of very open atmosphere in the organisation & dress code of a female may be a reason of it .But nothing is perfect we can take precaution but we cant stop it.

  14. says

    Hi Amit,

    I also think some people face sexual harassement as they seek employment for the very first time. sleep with the manager and you will get the position you are seeking for, or when one requires promotion. A friend of mine is just about to finish her attachment in journalism and the boss tells her, you are a smart girl you know what to do, the job is all yours.

  15. Rakesh Rameshar says

    What can Hr department do to be on the preventive side and avoid such malpractices in the worplace. Prevention is better than cure.

  16. says

    My view on this topic is that more enlightenment program should be organized within the organization for employees to have clear understanding of sexual harassment and the consequences. A supervisor or senior colleague should not harass his/her subordinate sexually or vice versa. Even an HR professional should be guided by the code of ethics of his/her profession accordingly.

  17. Alice says

    Sexual harassment is one of the things that is difficult to ascertain, and like rape, it goes un reported yet it is a common practice in most workplaces.sexual harassment takes so may forms, for people who like flirting, they may not see some sexual advances as harassment, so it entirely depends on how one reacts to such advances.

  18. Aheto says


    It is indeed a very important topic for and in Ghana. However, it may, could, or would be very difficult for people to give you the needed credible data for the research. You could be very lucky and get the information, but the respondent may need assurance of confidentiality or anonymity.



  19. falak says

    combating executives preying on subordinates and to encourage those who have been harassed is still a biger task for any HR Manger and I guess it all ends up well when the person in question has the ability or he develops the same to voice his opinion.
    otherwise i think no amount of awareness or rules can ever help..!!

  20. josian says

    I agree with the sexual harasement article because i was a victim of that kind of abuse. It was from someone in the senior management level

  21. Zephrenne Nyarufunjo says

    Well in some places of work it takes time for a victim to start complaining, especially when his/her side receive the negative result. In poor countries one may apply relation with boss as a qualification to the desired post but when it comes with negative results its where it known as sexual harassment..

  22. says

    Hi Amit, this is an interesting topic because it is very hard to define sexual harassment and be able to clearly separate the harasser from the one being harassed. For example, when a man is seduced by either a coworker be he/she senior or junior how do you term that?
    Throughout the world people have different values and there are women who intentionally seduce their buses to sexual relations with them in anticipation of some kind of favor.

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