Often, when an employee files for sexual harassment claims, he or she claims that there was a hostile environment during his or her employment.

However, this term can be vague. Many situations are ambiguous enough that they may need additional scrutiny.

Title VII

One of the most important set of laws regarding workplace sexual harassment is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Outlined in it are standards used to determine whether a job had a hostile work environment.

One standard is that this act, or series of acts, must be sexual in nature and objectively and subjectively offensive. This means that other people should agree that what you did was, without a doubt, considered hostile. Since there are no specific guidelines in place to measure hostility, each case is different.


Yet another aspect that can be vague is the focus on the frequency of the acts, or “how much is enough” to consider it harrassment. There is no numerical scale to use in a strict sense. Rather, it depends on the overall severity of all the acts the you did.

Verbal or physical

Some personal discussions may not necessarily lead to a hostile environment, as long as they are not sexual or vulgar in nature. Regular workplace talks do not often fall under this category.

However, it can be increasingly hard to determine whether a person falls into the threshold for harassment if the incident consisted only of verbal conversation. Touch is often considered the more obviously sexual of the two interactions. Trying to define a hostile work environment without touch is generally harder.