Practice Alerts

Sexual Harassment

Law, rules and regulations, not Guidelines, specify the requirements for practice and violating them constitutes professional misconduct. Not adhering to this Guideline may be interpreted as professional misconduct only if the conduct also violates pertinent law, rules and regulations.

Licensed behavior analysts (LBAs) and certified behavior analyst assistants (CBAAs) should be aware of and avoid those behaviors that could potentially be interpreted/perceived as sexual harassment1 and compromise the provision of professional services by complaints of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is improper professional behavior and, where allegations are substantiated, may be grounds for disciplinary action.2

In the context of applied behavior analysis (ABA) services, sexual harassment is defined as the LBA's or CBAA's behavior of a sexual nature that is interpreted/perceived to be bothersome, demeaning, irritating, disrespectful or offensive. The behavior can occur in conjunction with the LBA's or CBAA's activities or role as a behavior analyst or behavior analyst assistant (e.g. administrator, colleague, co-worker, consultant, educator, supervisor, etc.) in the various settings in which the ABA services are provided (e.g. agency, hospital, private practice, school, organization, etc.). Behaviors construed to be inappropriate and forms of sexual harassment may reflect a loss of objectivity of the LBA or CBAA and could result in harmful long-lasting emotional and psychological effects for the patient/client. Be aware that sexual harassment can be interpreted/perceived by a patient/client regardless of the LBA's or CBAA's intent. One should be aware of and sensitive to the cultural contexts of the patient/client and/or his or her authorized caregiver, e.g., ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, social class, etc., when addressing sexual issues and be aware that this area can be sensitive and require attention to the patient's/client's feelings and perceptions.

Examples of sexual harassment may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Sexual jokes, teasing, making inappropriate comments about a patient's/client's body, or showing explicit pictures.
  2. Unwanted or unnecessary touching or making expressions, which may reasonably be interpreted as being seductive or sexually demeaning.
  3. Asking for sexual favors, for example as part of a "quid pro quo" arrangement.
  4. Sitting too close, initiating hugging or holding of the patient/client.
  5. Dressing in a style inconsistent with what would be considered appropriate in a professional setting, e.g., a provocative style that lacks professionalism and/or is insensitive to the patient/client’s background or culture.

Ways to avoid complaints of sexual harassment include:

  • Become familiar with and follow the policy and guidelines for the avoidance of sexual harassment at your places of employment.
  • Take a continuing education course or attend a workshop for the prevention of sexual harassment to become familiar with the issues.
  • For those in private practice, develop a policy and guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment, if none exists.
  • Respect the people around you.
  • Think before acting; asking yourself if your words or actions could be misinterpreted.
  • When feasible, the LBA or CBAA should attempt to design the physical space in a manner that is sensitive to issues of privacy and confidentiality.

Sexual harassment is a very serious matter and may result in charges of professional misconduct. If your actions have been construed as sexual harassment, take steps to address the situation in an appropriate manner. Depending on the circumstances, this could include, among other things, consultation with a colleague or supervisor, possible transfer of the patient/client, and/or interventions based upon inquiry, interpretation or clarification of the patient's/client's motives.


1 The term "sexual harassment" is used to describe behavior that is recognized or identified in textbooks, professional journals, courses on such behavior, and the determination of the State Board for Applied Behavior Analysis as being sexual harassment.

2 The following Rules of the Board of Regents on Unprofessional Conduct are legal provisions under which sexual harassment may be found to constitute professional misconduct:

  • §29.1(b)(5) (Moral Unfitness)
  • §29.2(c)(2) (Physical or verbal harassment, abuse or intimidation of a patient)

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Last Updated: May 15, 2017