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Touching at work is not always OK in the absence of a “no”

Sexual harassment takes many forms. For example, it can include emailing obscene images to a co-worker or making sexual comments. However, the phrase “no means no” may erroneously lead some people to conclude that in the absence of a “no,” the other person is fine with comments, emails, touching and the like.

This simply is not true.

Saying “no” does have its advantages

To be sure, saying “no” can be beneficial. It often makes harassment even more evident, which is important because, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 54.1 percent of harassment claims the EEOC dealt with in fiscal year 2016 were determined to have “no reasonable cause.” So, if someone says “no,” and the harasser persists, making a case might be even more straightforward.

That said, a man or a woman does not have to say “no” for an action or touch to be inappropriate.

Power imbalance

One obvious example is with power imbalances. If you work as, say, a secretary and your boss enjoys touching you in inappropriate areas, you may feel like you will lose your job or face retaliation in other ways if you say no. Your boss is taking advantage of his or her authority.

Not knowing about the harassment

It is also possible to be a sexual harassment victim and not know about it for a while. For example, someone at work could have been spreading rumors for months about a co-worker sleeping around. Obviously, if you do not know about harassment that is occurring, you cannot speak up and say “no.”

Employer policies

The employer handbook likely lists behaviors that are inappropriate. You and the others in your office may have undergone sexual harassment training. Thus, any reasonable employee at the company should already know what behaviors could constitute harassment. Claiming that no one said, “No,” is not an excuse.

In fact, as long as behaviors are unwelcome, they can be harassment. If you have not said, “No,” you may wonder what your options are for making a case. An attorney should be able to help.

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