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Does verbal abuse count as sexual harassment in the workplace?

Words sometimes cut more profoundly than physical actions. Sexual harassment can take the form of a verbal attack in the workplace, creating a hostile and intimidating environment that can impact your productivity, performance and overall morale.

Per Missouri’s anti-harassment laws, your employer, colleague or subordinate cannot coerce you to submit to their sexual desires or advances in exchange for a promotion, salary increase, and other employment benefits or rewards. There were almost 27,300 sexual harassment charges nationwide from 2018 to 2021. Of these charges during the same period, women filed 78.2%.

But workplace sexual harassment can happen to anyone, no matter the gender, age or race. Often, it does not necessarily have to be physical.

Examples of verbal sexual harassment

Anything derogatory that makes you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable may count as verbal sexual harassment. In fact, just making suggestive sounds or noises, like whistling or catcalling, is already sexual misconduct. Some other examples include:

  • Using offensive pet names or nicknames
  • Belittling, demeaning or humiliating bodily features or appearance
  • Making sexually charged jokes, innuendos or other lewd remarks
  • Spreading rumors or false narratives about your private sex life

If you are experiencing emotional torture caused by verbal sexual harassment, or any kind for that matter, you must report it to your supervisor. But if your boss is the sexual predator, you must consult with your human resources team and consult your legal counsel about how to proceed, given your circumstances.

Speaking out for your truth

When a verbal attack happens in the workplace, it is understandably daunting to voice out your trauma. Know that the Missouri Human Rights Act has a strong stance on unlawful sexual behavior, so you could rightfully claim your right to a safe workplace.