What Are Considered Sexual Advances in the Workplace?

Sexual advances can constitute sexual harassment if they're unwelcome sexual advances. There's no rubric or rulebook on what constitutes a sexual advance. For example, it could be physical touching, it could be groping, and it could also be more subtle types of physical touching. So someone caressing your hand or someone playing footsies with you under the table, and if that goes on for an extended period of time, that's something that you might want to document for the purposes of a sexual harassment claim. And a lot of times, these types of physical conduct are accompanied by perverse comments, propositions, emails, text messages, and all of that is important evidence for a sexual harassment case. We handle this on a day-to-day basis. It's something that's very important to me because I see how it affects my clients. And while it is difficult, I enjoy being the person to help them.

New York City Attorneys Assisting Victims of Harassment

Sexual advances may be considered sexual harassment when they are unwelcome. There is no detail provided under the law about which specific actions are considered sexual advances. Generally, if they make you uncomfortable, you should document actions that may be construed as sexual advances, such as physical touching, groping, the caress of a hand, or playing footsies under the table. You should also keep any emails or texts that accompany the behavior and show that you were sexually harassed. At Phillips and Associates, our New York City sexual harassment lawyers handle these cases on a daily basis. If you are wondering what is considered a sexual advance in the workplace, you should call us. We see how harassment affects our clients, and we want to be the people to help them.

What Are Considered Sexual Advances in the Workplace?

Sexual advances include a wide range of verbal and physical conduct, and in some cases, they may include such statements as asking for a date or making uninvited remarks about your body. They may involve a coworker bringing you inappropriate gifts like underwear at work or making overtures at the holiday party. Sexual advances in the workplace are considered actionable harassment. Harassment takes the form of either quid pro quo or hostile work environment.

With quid pro quo harassment, your accepting the sexual advance is a condition of continued employment or some other employment benefit. A sexual advance is quid pro quo harassment if it comes from a person in a position of power, such as a supervisor, manager, or company officer or owner. A coworker usually cannot commit quid pro quo sexual harassment by making a sexual advance because they do not have control over whether or not you stay employed.

With hostile work environment harassment, the question is whether the harassing conduct was so severe or so pervasive that it altered the terms and conditions of your employment. Trivial one-off remarks will not be considered a sexual advance. For example, if your coworker remarks that your blouse is tight one time, this might be the start of something larger, or it might be a random comment. However, if there is a series of comments that make you uncomfortable and are unwelcome, you may have grounds to claim that these are sexual advances or harassment.

If you are groped at work, it is likely to be considered a sexual advance as well as an assault. Even if it happens just one time, you may have a basis to bring a claim because it is a "severe" incident. Similarly, if you are assaulted in some other way or touched multiple times inappropriately, these are likely to be considered sexual advances.


The damages that may be available to you in a sexual harassment claim based on sexual advances depend on many factors, including under which law you bring your case. For example, damages are capped under federal law. Punitive damages are not available under state law. In most cases, the New York City Human Rights Law provides the strongest remedies, including:

  • Back pay and front pay
  • Out-of-pocket costs
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages in some cases

How much you recover in any of these categories depends on specifically what happened. For example, if you were groped by your boss, you asked him to stop, he fired you, and you were unable to find another job for several months even though you made an effort, you may be entitled to wages for the period during which you were out of work. In general, employees are expected to make an effort to try to find a job if they are terminated in order to mitigate their damages.

Hire a New York City Attorney for a Sexual Harassment Claim

If you have been humiliated by sexual actions or words on the job, and you are wondering what are considered sexual advances in the workplace for the purposes of bringing a claim, you should call us. Our New York City lawyers can discuss your situation in detail and determine whether you may have a basis for filing a claim under the applicable local, state, or federal laws. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up an appointment with an employment discrimination lawyer. We battle workplace misconduct in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan, as well as Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and New Jersey.