When Does Flirting in the Workplace Become Sexual Harassment? 

wheaton sexual harassment lawyerFlirting and making crude jokes with coworkers is unwise behavior for a number of reasons. Everybody has a different threshold for tolerating this behavior; what someone finds funny, someone else may find downright offensive, and what one person views as harmless flirtation may be perceived by someone else as unwanted harassment. Even a casual observer may object to behavior or language they see or overhear. 

Workplaces are staffed by adults who are complex and imperfect. Many people have casual, flirtatious friendships with coworkers that, while they may be ill-advised, do not cross into the domain of sexual harassment. Yet workplace sexual harassment is common, and it is illegal. It causes negative consequences for victims and can interfere with a victim’s ability to do his or her job. So how do you know if flirting has crossed a line? And if it has, what can you do about it? 

Know The Definition of Sexual Harassment

Illinois and federal law provide definitions of what is legally considered sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a type of illegal employment discrimination based on physical or verbal abuse, specifically of a sexual nature. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits two specific categories of sexual harassment:

  • Quid Pro Quo – “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment generally comes from a supervisor and entails a career benefit given in exchange for sexual favors. This can be positive – “If you do x to me, I’ll do y for you” – or negative – “If you do not do x for me, you will suffer y as a consequence.” A victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment does not need to have suffered financially as a consequence of the harassment; the harassing behavior simply has to have targeted the victim, been unwelcome, and affected some aspect of the victim’s job. 

  • Hostile Environment – Sexual harassment that is so severe or pervasive that it would cause a reasonable person to find it abusive or interfere with the victim’s ability to do his or her job is “hostile environment” sexual harassment. This may include physical contact, sexual advances, sexual remarks, sending sexually graphic material, and more. 

What Should I Do If Excessive Flirting is Making Me Uncomfortable at Work? 

If a co-worker, supervisor, or another work associate is acting in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable - speak up. You deserve to work in a respectful, professional environment. If your employer does nothing to stop the inappropriate behavior, you may need to file a sexual harassment complaint. Follow the procedure in your company’s employee handbook. If your employer does nothing to rectify the situation or takes retaliatory action against you for reporting the harassment, you may need to take further legal action. 

Contact an Illinois Discrimination Attorney

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or retaliation, contact a knowledgeable Wheaton, IL sexual harassment lawyer to learn more about your rights and options under Illinois law. The attorneys at Mirabella, Kincaid, Frederick, & Mirabella, LLC,  can help you plan the best course of action. Call us today at 630-665-7300 to schedule a consultation.


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In honor of the passing of our founder, Joseph F. Mirabella, Jr., our offices are closed Friday, January 31, 2020.I Agree