How to Recognize Subtle Forms of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace By Dan Atkerson on May 31, 2024

Toxic supervisor putting his hand on a direct report's hand while she is using her computer mouse

We expect employers to protect their workers from sexual harassment at the workplace. There should be systems in place to report poor conduct and physical or verbal harassment of any sort. In my career as an employment lawyer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I've helped many workers hold supervisors and other higher-ups accountable for sexual harassment or allowing such mistreatment to occur.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment isn't always overt. Now that we have a better understanding of how pervasive harassment can be on the job, some people have found ways to hide workplace misconduct and continue to bully, stalk, and belittle.

I'd like to explore some ways that people conceal harassment and then focus on what you can do about it. If you've been the victim of workplace sexual harassment and need help, please reach out to my law office in Allen, TX.


Four Types of Sexual Harassment You May Not Notice

Below are just four examples of actions that are an understated form of sexual harassment.

We encourage you to review a previous blog post we did on subtle signs you're being punished or mistreated at work. This should give you an understanding of how toxic bosses or supervisors try to conceal their abuse of power.

1. Unwelcome Flirting or Advances

Unwanted advances at work go well beyond the friendly, everyday compliments an acquaintance might make. Be wary if you have a co-worker who frequently makes comments about your appearance that make you feel uncomfortable. The same is true of co-workers who act flirtatious when your interactions are meant to be strictly professional.

2. Sexual Innuendo and Inappropriate Conversation

Similar to the above example, sexual innuendo has no place at work. Your co-workers should not be making any comments of that kind. Similarly, your co-workers should not be discussing the intimate details of their private lives with you at the workplace. This behavior crosses personal boundaries and could be considered a form of sexual harassment.

3. Frequent Invasion of Personal Space

Be vigilant around co-workers or supervisors who frequently try to initiate physical contact, such as hugging or any kind of touching that isn't common in a professional setting. The same is true of workers who try to stand too close to you or violate your personal space. Once against, these actions cross personal boundaries, which is not acceptable at work.

4. Unwanted Social Media Interactions

Subtle forms of harassment may persist outside of the workplace, especially on social media platforms like Instagram. If you have a co-worker who has started following you on social media and seems to be commenting on all of your posts, tagging you in theirs, or repeatedly sending you messages, these could all be means of hidden sexual harassment.

Discuss What Happened to You With a Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer

I just provided four examples of subtle sexual harassment, but there are plenty of other ways toxic co-workers try to conceal their actions.

Should you need legal advice on how to proceed with a sexual harassment claim, you can count on my employment law office in Allen, TX. I have helped workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1984 and can offer my insight regarding your claim.


Woman at work being sexually harassed by a co-worker putting his arm around her

If a Co-Worker's Behavior Makes You Feel Uneasy, It's Worth Reporting It

You may be wondering if you've experienced sexual harassment or if your co-worker was just being awkward or simply doesn't understand boundaries.

This can be easier said than done, but try to point out your co-worker's behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable as soon as it happens and ask them to stop. They simply may not have realized what they were doing.

If your co-worker continues to make you feel uncomfortable with the same pattern of unacceptable behavior, it is worth reporting them to your supervisor or a human resources representative.

How to Report Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

Sexual harassment protocols can vary from company to company, but here are a few steps to consider as you report sexual harassment internally:

  1. Take notes about what happened and when it happened to the best of your ability
  2. Document any untoward behavior with screenshots or photos
  3. Present your evidence or documentation to your supervisor or HR

If you are not sure about your workplace's formal complaint procedure, feel free to ask your supervisor or an HR rep.

What to Do if HR or Supervisors Don't Intervene on Your Behalf

There have been times when HR and supervisors ignore legitimate employee complaints. Chances are that your current supervisor and the representatives in HR have either normalized this kind of conduct or they do not have the best interests of employees in mind.

If you run into this roadblock, you can channel your frustration into action. I encourage you to:

  1. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  2. Formally alert the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)
  3. Speak with a lawyer about what legal actions you can take

Remember: HR may not be on your side, but the law is.

Contact an Attorney to Review Your Legal Options

If you are fighting an uphill battle against your company's toxic culture or hostile working environment, you don't have to fight alone. I have helped workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for four decades. I'm ready to help you.


Supervisor harassing direct report while her co-workers look on

What Should I Do if I Witness Someone Being Sexual Harassed at Work?

Sometimes you are not the direct target of workplace harassment but can help someone who is. If you witnessed inappropriate behavior between employees or see any kind of sexual misconduct at your job, you can put a stop to it.

There are many steps you can take if you've witnessed misconduct at work. If possible, I recommend the following:

  • Try to intervene and stop the inappropriate workplace behavior as soon as it happens
  • Provide emotional support to your co-worker as well as moral support about reporting misconduct
  • Offer to be a witness for reporting the bad behavior to a supervisor or HR representative
  • Be willing to file a separate sexual harassment complaint to back up your co-worker

I Reported Harassment and My Boss Is Punishing Me for It: What Can I Do?

If you reported employee misconduct but feel that you are being punished for speaking out, you are likely the victim of workplace retaliation by your boss. These kinds of behaviors can take all kinds of forms, from the silent treatment to being passed up for a promotion.

I've looked at how to prove you're a victim of workplace retaliation previously on this blog post. As always, it's worth speaking to an employment lawyer about what's happened as you could have legal recourse against your company for the way they have mistreated treated you.

Discuss What Happened With a Skilled Employment Law Attorney

If you work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and need legal advice about workplace sexual harassment, contact my law firm in Allen, TX. We can review the misconduct and other incidents related to the harassment and then determine your legal options and what steps to take next.



Attorney Dan A. Atkerson

Dan A. Atkerson
Dan A. Atkerson has worked as a civil employment law attorney in DFW since 1984. He has extensive knowledge of state and federal labor statutes and is a member of both the State Bar of Texas and the Dallas Bar Association.

Read Dan Atkerson's Full Bio | All Posts by Dan Atkerson

Related to This

Dan Atkerson

Law Offices of Dan A. Atkerson

Dan A. Atkerson has been protecting the rights of North Texas employees for over nearly four decades. He is affiliated with several prestigious legal organizations, including: 

  • The State Bar of Texas
  • The Dallas Bar Association
  • The United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit
  • Texas Supreme Court and all Texas trial and appellate courts
  • Texas federal courts for the Northern and Eastern Districts of Texas

Through aggressive, knowledgeable representation, he has helped clients all over the state reach significant verdicts and settlements. To schedule a consultation at our law firm, request an appointment online or call us at (214) 383-3606.

Get In Touch

Rate, Review & Explore

Social Accounts Sprite