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Defining sexual harassment in the workplace

One might think that these days, with all the awareness out there about sexual harassment in the workplace, is not a big issue anymore. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It is still an issue, and it is more than just men harassing women. Sexual harassment can occur between any two co-workers. Men can harass women, women can harass men, men can harass men and women can harass women.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act provides the state's legal definition of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes sexual comments or physical acts, requests to commit sexual acts or unwanted sexual advances, if one of three conditions are met. The first condition is if submitting to the sexual conduct or communication is done as either an explicit or implicit condition of being hired. The second condition is if either submitting to or rejecting the sexual communication or conduct factors into decisions by others that have some sort of effect on the victim's employment. The third condition is if the sexual communication or conduct is done or has the effect of substantially affecting the victim's job or creates a hostile working environment.

That being said, federal law also prohibits discrimination in the workplace via Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There are many similarities between Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Per both federal and state law, to be a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case, the victim must be a member of a protected class, the harassment must be unwelcome, the basis of the harassment must be that the plaintiff was a member of a protected class and the harassment must have either lead to a hostile working environment or in some other way affected a privilege, condition or term of being employed in the workplace. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, sexual orientation is considered to be a protected class, unlike federal law.

Understanding the definition of sexual harassment is important so that those in the workplace can recognize when it is happening, whether they are the victim of harassment or even if they are witnessing harassment against another coworker. Bringing light to the issue is the first step in taking steps to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Source: Stopvaw.org, "Sexual Harassment in Minnesota," accessed Oct. 16, 2016

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