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Understanding the Line Between Unwanted Attention and Harassment at Work

Published on Apr 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm in Employment Law.

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As an employee, you do your best to meet your job obligations and be a team player. When a coworker, supervisor, or employer makes your work environment uncomfortable, it can affect you in a number of ways and make it hard to work. Victims of harassment need to know that harassment is illegal and employment laws can help.

If you’ve experienced inappropriate behavior at work from an employer or coworkers, it’s important to understand the line between unwanted attention and harassment. Having this knowledge will help you decide what type of action to take to protect yourself.

Unwanted Attention Versus Harassment at Work

When you hear about harassment at work, it’s likely you think of sex-related misconduct. Inappropriate touching or sexual comments may come to mind. While sexual harassment does happen in the workplace, it’s not the only type of unwanted attention and harassment employees have to put up with. It’s important to understand the types of situations that are considered harassment, so you can protect yourself and ensure your workplace is safe.

The differences between unwanted attention and harassment revolve around severity and occurrence. In most cases, unwanted attention occurs in isolated incidents. If the unwanted attention does not stop, it legally becomes harassment.

Unwanted Attention

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC), unwanted attention is behavior that’s considered subjectively unwelcome and objectively severe and pervasive enough to make an employee feel like they’re in a hostile work environment.

Examples of unwanted attention include:

  • Repeated and unwanted communication via phone, email, social media, etc.
  • Targeted and repeated jokes that are offensive in nature
  • Repeatedly asking someone out on a date when they’ve already said no
  • Sending or leaving unwanted gifts
  • Commenting on someone’s physical abilities or appearance
  • Excluding someone from discussions or preventing them from making decisions
  • Unwanted touching of any kind—even touching that seems innocent like putting an arm around one’s shoulder or a pat on the back

Because unwanted attention is subjectively unwelcome, some employees may be confused as to what they’re experiencing. It’s important to document incidents that result in discomfort and speak to a supervisor or higher-up when unwanted attention becomes a problem that affects the work environment.


When the incidents above are isolated, they are not considered harassment. If unwanted behavior continues, however, it can turn into harassment. According to the EEOC, harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Harassment can be based on the following factors:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex/pregnancy
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Harassment is illegal once it becomes a condition of continued employment and creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment to a reasonable person.

Avoiding Unwanted Attention at Work

If you’ve experienced an uncomfortable moment with a co-worker, you are not powerless. There are steps you can take to avoid unwanted attention. First, it’s important to set ground rules. Inform them that their behavior is unwanted and needs to stop. Also, be sure to document the incidents. This includes writing down dates, times, and comments when something seems off.

If the inappropriate behavior continues, file a report with your supervisor, boss, or human resources—depending on the situation and the hierarchy of your workplace. If the unwanted attention continues, it can be considered harassment.

It’s important to remember that harassment at work does not have to affect your career. So long as your employer takes the appropriate measures, the harassment will stop, and you will be able to return to a safe, productive workplace.

There are instances, however, where employers fail to eliminate harassment issues. If that occurs, it’s imperative to contact an employment law attorney so you can learn about your rights and ensure you receive justice.

Representing Harassment Victims in Arkansas

If you’ve experienced harassment in the workplace, it’s important to understand your options when it comes to taking legal action. While your employer will likely want to handle the matter internally, we can determine if you have other routes to take. We will explain the advantages and disadvantages of your options, so you can make the best decision for you and your future.

At McMath Woods, P.A., we understand how challenging it is to face harassment in the workplace. We will not hesitate to provide you with the legal guidance and advice you need to hold the negligent party accountable for their behavior. For more information on harassment at work or to learn about behaviors that are illegal, contact us today.

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