The Difference between Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct

Published: 27th October 2009
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Sexual harassment and misconduct claims are legal actions against behaviors that are sexual in nature in the workplace.

Although the two terms are normally used interchangeably, there is a difference between sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

To illustrate the difference, here is a brief discussion of the two terms:

Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct refers to wrongful, improper or unlawful acts and behaviors that are sexual in nature, which are premeditated and intentional.

With sexual misconduct, the offender exhibits obstinate disregard to the consequences of the act.

Sexual misconduct usually occurs when a person of authority engages in any sexual activity between him/her and a subordinate.

Although the sexual act is not explicitly illegal, it often goes against professional code of ethics.

For example, a doctor or a lawyer may have their licenses revoked for sexual misconduct.

Lastly, a person in a subordinate position may file for sexual harassment against the person of authority.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome acts that are sexual in nature that affects the workplace environment.

This includes sexual bullying, intimidation, and coercion. It also includes inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.

Sexual harassment is considered as a form of illegal discrimination based on sex and as a form of abuse both sexual and psychological.

Unlike sexual misconduct, sexual harassment is implicitly against the law and is an actionable offense.

There are two types of sexual harassment; they are:

• Quid Pro Quo - It literally means "this for that." This is the more popular type of sexual harassment. It refers to the request for sexual favors by a person of authority like a manager or a supervisor in exchange for some employment benefits like security of job, a raise or a promotion.

The misconception about it is that if you gave in to the advances of the offender then you could no longer make a sexual harassment claim.

The fact is you still can file a claim provided that you prove that the sexual acts were unwelcome and you did not have any other choice but to give in.

• Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment - This refers to situations where the employees are subjected to consistent and progressive acts that are sexual in nature.

This includes comments that are sexual in nature, offensive sexual materials like pornographic photos, and unwelcome physical contact.

The employers and management may be liable as well even though they did not commit the offensive act.

That is if they did not take any measures to solve the problem or allowed the acts to persist.


The main difference of sexual misconduct from sexual harassment is that it is not automatically against the law.

It may violate certain ethical codes but as long as the acts are welcome and consensual it is not illegal per se.

If the sexual misconduct though is unwelcome, the offended party can then file for sexual harassment.

Contact an employment law attorney for help in making a sexual harassment and misconduct claim.

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, get help from our experienced employment attorneys. Visit our website and dial our toll free number.

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