Obscene or Offensive Gestures as Sexual Harassment
Sometimes sexual harassment can be subtle— instead of the overt images called to mind when thinking of violent or aggressive behaviors. Oftentimes, a co-worker or supervisor will make off-handed remarks or gestures that are sexually charged and make references to inappropriate, lewd, or sexual activity. When this happens in the workplace, it can leave you shocked and wondering: was that sexual harassment?
Non-verbal obscene and offensive gestures can absolutely constitute sexual harassment if you were made to feel uncomfortable, violated, or afraid, even if those gestures were not directed towards you specifically.
Sexual harassment in the workplace has been defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance; or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
Some examples of obscene or offensive gestures in the workplace that could rise to the level of sexual harassment include:
- Hand gestures that simulate sexual activity
- Obscene gestures made using the face, lips, tongue, or other body parts
- Simulation of any sexual activity, including touching or groping of body parts
- Use of the middle finger in a sexually suggestive or threatening manner
- Uncomfortable leering, staring, or other sexually mannered facial expressions
- Using a body, or body language, to physically threaten, trap, corner, or intimidate
Obscene or offensive gestures may be part of an ongoing pattern of sexual harassment or a one-time event. These gestures of sexual harassment may occur in front of other co-workers or happen on a one-to-one basis.
What should I do if I experience this conduct in the workplace?
You may feel anxious to file a grievance in the workplace solely based on obscene or offense gestures of a sexual nature, however, you have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment and intimidation.
Oftentimes, employers will not take action when someone reports a sexual harassment claim based on obscene or offensive gestures. At California Employment Counsel, APC, we understand that you have the right to a safe work environment and that you do not deserve to be treated disrespectfully in your place of employment. If your sexual harassment grievance has been met with opposition from your employer, we can help. We will help you through this process and pursue legal action if needed.