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Sexual harassment has legal definition

What is the legal definition of harassment? Talking with two friends yesterday about the "Me, Too" situation, we discovered that we all had different definitions for the term. What would be the definition used in this case?

— Liz

In America and across the world, women and men are sharing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse through the Me Too Movement, in which people typically post about their experiences on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.

Sexual harassment has a specific legal definition under Oregon law, according to the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or conduct of a sexual nature — whether verbal, physical or visual — that is directed toward an individual because of gender. It can also include conduct that is not sexual in nature but is gender-related. Sexual harassment includes harassment of a person of the same or of the opposite sex, according to BOLI.

Examples of sexual harassment include repeated sexual flirtations, advances or propositions; continued or repeated language of a sexual nature; graphic or degrading comments about an individual or his or her appearance; the display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures or any unwelcome or abusive physical contact of a sexual nature, BOLI says.

Sexual harassment also includes quid pro qou situations in which employment benefits are conditioned upon sexual favors. Quid pro quo is Latin for "this for that."

Quid pro quo examples include offering a promotion in return for sexual activity, threatening to increase a person's workload if he or she won't join another person for dinner or threatening to take away someone's job if he or she won't continue dating the person, according to BOLI.

Sexual harassment also occurs when behavior creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive working environment. An example would be a supervisor who regularly compliments a woman about her figure and clothing, tells sexual jokes and keeps a calendar of semi-nude women in his office despite the woman's objections that she finds the behavior offensive, BOLI says.

Employers can be liable for sexual harassment committed by supervisors against workers beneath them, or for sexual harassment between co-workers, BOLI says.

An employee who wins a sexual harassment lawsuit may be awarded damages that cover back pay, counseling or medical costs, attorney fees, pain and suffering and punitive damages, according to BOLI.

For more information about sexual harassment in the workplace, see www.oregon.gov/boli/TA/pages/t_faq_tasexhar.aspx.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.