What is considered sexual harassment in the workplace?

What is considered sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. The unwanted nature of sexual harassment distinguishes it from behaviour that is welcome and mutual. According to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), sexual attention becomes sexual harassment if:

a.  The behaviour is persisted in, although a single incident of harassment can constitute sexual harassment; and/or

b.  The recipient has made it clear that the behaviour is considered offensive; and/or

c.  The perpetrator should have known that the behaviour is regarded as unacceptable.

Forms of sexual harassment

It’s important to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct, but is not limited to the following examples:

a.  Physical conduct of a sexual nature includes all unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, and includes a strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex.

b.  Verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body made in their presence or directed toward them, unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life, and unwelcome whistling directed at a person or group of persons.

c.  Non-verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome gestures, indecent exposure, and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.

d.  Quid pro quo harassment occurs where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increment or other benefit of an employee or job applicant, in exchange for sexual favours.


  • The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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