The Fine Line Between Flirting and Sexual Harassment: Where Is the Line?

Sexual harassment at the workplace touches a nerve because it’s emotionally and viscerally offensive. But to get the behavior to stop, victims often need to be objective and systematic. This can be quite challenging. Consider the fine line between flirting and harassing someone. How can you tell the difference, and how can you prove it in court?

It’s easy to find extreme examples that clearly fall on one side of the line or the other. For instance: two coworkers share a mutual hug after closing a big account — that’s probably fine. However, when a supervisor sends his secretary lewd emails about his sexual fantasies, that’s likely harassment.

But not every situation is cut and dry.

For instance, is it harassment to ask a coworker out on a date? The answer is: it depends. What is the context of the relationship? How was the “asking out” done? What’s company policy? What’s the working relationship between the people involved? Etc.

People can have fundamentally different sensibilities. For instance, one person may appreciate or even revel in “blue humor.” Another person might find the same humor deeply offensive.

What to Do If You Feel That “Flirtatious” Behavior Went Over the Line

If some workplace behavior – “flirtatious” or otherwise – made you uncomfortable, you have rights and options. Here are some strategies.

1. First of all, document exactly what happened, when it happened, and who was involved. Do so as soon as possible after the event, so you can remember all relevant details.

2. Second of all, consider talking to your supervisor or your company’s HR department about what happened.

3. Lastly, if you haven’t yet connected with a sexual harassment attorney to discuss the situation, you might benefit from calling the Joseph & Kirschenbaum team for a free consultation at (212) 688-5640.

The moral is this: the difference between flirtation and harassment is often in the eye of the beholder. Just because a person who bothered you at work insisted that he was “only flirting” doesn’t make his behavior acceptable. You deserve – and, indeed, the law demands – that you can enjoy a harassment free workplace. Also, the law can protect you if/when you make a legal claim. For instance, if you complain or sue for sexual harassment, your employer cannot demote you, fire you, or otherwise punish you for making that claim.

Call the Joseph & Kirschenbaum team for a free consultation and deep insight into your situation.

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