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Can Sexual Harassment Happen Outside of Work?

Group of co-workers at a social event

Can Sexual Harassment Happen Outside of Work?

Unfortunately, sexual harassment has been an issue in places of business for decades. In recent years, the law has required a proactive approach in defining acceptable behavior for employees in the workplace. Still, one in every four working women and one in every six men have reported being sexually harassed at their job.

Many people believe the rules applied to them at work are not in effect once they leave the premises or after they punch the clock. People may think they can’t report things if they did not specifically happen while they were at work. Here are some answers as to whether or not sexual harassment can happen outside of work.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects everyone from discrimination based on their gender under Title VII. Under that law, there are two forms of sexual harassment that are recognized. Quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment are against the law and must be answered to by your employer if reported.

Quid Pro Quo 

If sexual advances are made by someone in authority or there is a threat that termination or demotion may come after a rejection, it can be quid pro quo sexual harassment. Many people have experienced this kind of harassment from a boss or a manager and have been in fear of losing their job if they don’t comply. Title VII protects employees from those types of threats, implied, or stated.

Hostile Work Environment

If an employee is exposed to behavior or offensive conduct that is sexual enough to cause them to feel intimidated or uncomfortable at work, that can be considered hostile work environment sexual harassment. It can mean that another employee is making sexual comments to them, giving unwanted touches, or making comments about their body. It can also take the form of sexually explicit jokes told in an area where the offended employee is and cannot leave.

Sexual Harassment Outside of Work

There are many instances when employees interact with each other outside of working hours and away from the office. Many companies encourage their employees to take part in team-building events, holiday parties, and social gatherings. In addition, there are conferences and work trips that employees may have to participate in that require staying in hotels for a few days. These types of events are how sexual harassment can happen outside of work.

Most employer-sponsored events can be productive and create a sense of friendship among co-workers. Alcohol may be served at some events, which can lower inhibitions and blur judgment. People may do or say things that would generally not be accepted if they were at work.

Work From Home

Many companies have had employees working from home more often in the past few years. Employees often feel that the rules are more relaxed because they are in their homes. However, online meetings are the same as office meetings.

Workplace Romances

There are also times when a workplace romance goes wrong. A person you dated at work and decided not to see anymore becomes threatening. They may show up at your home unannounced or call you when you have asked them to stop. In all of these instances, you have the right to make the harassment stop, though the definition under Title VII could limit how responsible your employer is.

What Are Your Rights?

The law does not place a limit over where sexual harassment has to take place before filing a claim. The court recognizes that human behavior can not be regulated in one place and ignored elsewhere. Any time you are at a function sponsored by work, you should be protected by sexual harassment laws.

If there is an employment relationship between the parties involved and the event is sanctioned by the workplace, then it is an extension of the workplace. Any rules of conduct that are in place at your place of work are also in effect at holiday parties and work-related events. If someone makes an improper advance or does something that makes you uncomfortable, you have the right to report it to your employer.

When it comes to harassment from someone outside of work but not at a company event, the rules can be vague. If the person harassing you is a manager or a direct supervisor, then Title VII applies. However, if it involves an employee who is not in a role over you, the court may not be as willing to find it to be work-related. It would still be in your employer’s best interest to address the issue, so you should try reporting it anyway.

Harassing Communication

Woman checking her phone for messages

Sexual harassment laws have been around for decades. Many of the ways we communicate have not been in place for nearly as long. We talk to each other over email, text messages, and social media more than ever. In the past few years, more and more people have been working from home and communicating over Zoom or Skype. Sexual harassment laws are still in effect when we use these.

If someone transmits unwanted messages or sexually explicit images, jokes, or videos to another employee, they are committing sexual harassment. There have been instances where work-at-home employees have felt uncomfortable with images or pictures hanging on another meeting participant’s wall.

These kinds of calls are work-related, and all the same rules apply, meaning you can not show something on the screen that you would not be allowed to display in the office.

Final Thoughts

Sexual harassment is not confined to the four walls of your office, and it doesn’t stop at 5 o’clock. Many instances take place all the time where sexual harassment can happen outside of work. Anytime your employer sponsors an event or encourages you to take place in a social engagement, the same harassment laws are applied.

If you feel as though you have been harassed or you are uncomfortable because of a situation you have been exposed to, you are protected in going to your employer to report it.

If you have been sexually harassed, or you have questions about a situation you were involved in, The Howley Law Firm is here to help you. Our team of sexual harassment lawyers knows the law and can tell you how it can be applied to your case. Call now for a consultation or fill out the contact form on our site to find out what options are available to you and how we can help.

Lady justice


Examples of sexual harassment that can occur outside of work include unwanted sexual comments or jokes, physical touching or groping, sending explicit messages or images, and other forms of unwanted sexual behavior.

Legal remedies for sexual harassment that occurs outside of work may include monetary damages for harm suffered, injunctive relief to stop the harassment from continuing, and other forms of relief as determined by a court.

Proving sexual harassment that occurred outside of work may involve gathering evidence such as witness statements, physical evidence, and documentation of the harassment. It is also important to speak with an experienced attorney who can help you build a strong case.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a whistleblower lawyer, call John Howley, Esq. at (212) 601-2728.
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