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How Sexual Harassment Affects The Workplace

Updated: Jan 27

Workplace Sexual Harassment In California And Your Legal Options

Hostile working environments can cause distress, sometimes to the point of driving the target of the hostility out of the company. One of the causes of such hostile working environments is sexual harassment, which can go unnoticed without proper guidelines and punishments.


That said, there are protections for employees in California. This post will talk about employee rights, such as their right to complain and file claims for sexual harassment in the workplace.


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What Exactly Is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is defined as a form of sex discrimination. Additionally, California has similar statutes that provide employees even more rights.

Sexual harassment is defined by the law as a wide range of undesired actions or behaviors that have a negative impact on an employee's working environment.

The majority of sexual harassment accusations in the workplace fall into one of two categories:

  • Quid Pro Quo. In Latin, quid pro quo meaning "anything for something." In general, it refers to a form of sexual harassment in which an employee is encouraged to engage in any type of sexual act in exchange for a promotion, job retention, or other types of employment-related benefits or rewards.

  • Sexual harassment in a hostile work environment. This sort of harassment arises under California law when the harassment modifies the employee's working conditions in a way that makes it more difficult for him or her to do his or her job.

  • If the inappropriate conduct has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff's work performance or produced an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, a single instance of harassing conduct is sufficient to show the presence of a hostile work environment.

  • A hostile work environment is contingent on the totality of the circumstances. Even a single insensitive remark can be used to prove harassment.

Sexual harassment can take a number of different forms. Sometimes, they can be covert or seemingly harmless. However, they still take a toll on the target of the harassment, affecting their ability to work and be free from emotional distress.


Consider the following examples below:

  • Online harassment. To harass a victim, the perpetrator can use digital media such as email, social media, or other kinds of contact.

  • Harassment of due to their sexual orientation. When someone is ridiculed, insulted, or punished because of their sexual orientation.

  • Making sexual remarks and jokes. Unsolicited conversions of a sexual nature could lead to discomfort or distress.

If you are unsure of the specifics of your sexual harassment claim, consult with an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles. As said, some victims don't even know that they're already going through sexual harassment and might not know what qualifies as such. A lawyer will have enough experience with these cases to tell you which instances can be considered a violation of your rights as an employee in California.

Sexual Harassment Can Happen To Anyone

Sexual harassment is gender-neutral: men can sexually harass women, and women can sexually harass men.


Sexual harassment between people of the same sex is permissible as long as the harassment is centered on sex rather than sexual orientation, which is not a protected feature under Title VII.

For example, if a man's employees repeatedly bombard him with sexually explicit images of women, he may have a sexual harassment claim. If a man's employees, on the other hand, tease and belittle him because he is gay, it may not be considered criminal harassment under federal law as it is now interpreted. However, the employee in this example still has the grounds for LGBTQ+ discrimination, and can still file a discrimination claim.


Sexual Harassment Laws in California

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in California under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Harassment based on a person's sex or gender, as well as delivery, pregnancy, or a pregnancy-related medical condition, are examples of this. It is also illegal to harass a coworker or an employee based on their gender without a sexual motive.


In most circumstances, California law provides better worker safeguards than federal law. Harassment in the workplace can be classified as hostile work environment harassment or quid pro quo harassment.


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The former happens when harassment repeatedly occurs over time, resulting in a hostile, repressive, or intimidating work atmosphere. The latter happens when a condition of employment, such as promotion or termination requires an employee to consent to unwanted sexual advances. In California, even one incident of quid pro quo harassment is enough to bring a lawsuit.

When it comes to sexual harassment causing hostile work environments, a court must consider whether a reasonable person would perceive the workplace as hostile. The court will consider, among other things, the frequency of the harassing actions, their nature, and the context in which they happened.

Employers must make sure that their office, factory, or any other work location is free of sexual harassment. Any individual or firm that employs one or more employees on a regular basis is deemed an employer under the FEHA and may be held liable for sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can be prosecuted even if the perpetrator is a coworker. Employers, bosses, and coworkers may be held accountable for unlawful harassment even if they are only aiding and abetting the harassment rather than engaging in sexual harassment themselves. For example, a coworker who knew another coworker was touching you improperly and encouraged that coworker to continue doing so could be charged with sexual harassment. Similarly, an employer could be held accountable for sexual harassment if it knew or should have known that a coworker was harassing you but did nothing to stop it.


You may be entitled to receive payable damages (connected to actual economic effects such as job loss or medical benefits), emotional distress damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and injunctive relief if you successfully establish a claim under the FEHA. When the harassing behavior amounted to oppression, malice, or fraud, punitive damages may be awarded.


For more details and examples about the laws that protect you, contact an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles to help review your case.


What Are Some Common Workplace Sexual Harassment Examples?


As mentioned, there are different ways (some seemingly innocuous) sexual harassment can happen. It could be between a supervisor and a lower employee, for example. It can happen between male and female coworkers. It could also be a hostile, sexually charged workplace that makes someone feel uneasy.


Sexual harassment can take many forms, from offensive remarks to unwelcome touches. It may escalate to the point of sexual assault at work and criminal prosecution in some situations.


Sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, may involve, but is not limited to:

  • Sexual favors are requested in exchange for a work-related benefit

  • Sexual behavior, whether verbal or physical

  • Using obscene or sexual language or gestures

  • Unauthorized transmission of pornography

  • Obstruction of movement (i.e., grabbing the employee and not letting them leave even when they say they want to)

If you have been the victim or a target of acts of sexual harassment at work, you should contact an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles right once. We can assist you in determining what evidence is required to prosecute your case successfully. You have the right to a harassment-free workplace regardless of your gender, age, marital status, or sexual orientation.


Ways To Prevent Sexual Harassment At Work

As they are responsible for their employees, there are several steps employers can take to lessen the likelihood of workplace sexual harassment.

  • Adopt a clear policy against sexual harassment. There should be a comprehensive sexual harassment policy in your employee handbook. This policy should include the following:

  • Define what constitutes sexual harassment

  • Declare unequivocally that you will not accept sexual harassment

  • Declare that any wrongdoers will be disciplined or fired.

  • Provide a clear system for reporting or filing complaints about sexual harassment allegations

  • Declare that each complaint received will be thoroughly investigated, and

  • Declare that retaliation against anyone who reports sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

  • Employees should be educated. Conduct employee training sessions at least once a year. These workshops should teach employees what sexual harassment is, explain that they have a right to a sexual harassment-free workplace, go over your complaint system, and urge them to use it.

  • Supervisors and managers should be educated. Separate supervisory and management training sessions from employee training sessions at least once a year. Managers and supervisors should attend the courses to learn about sexual harassment and how to handle complaints.

  • Some states require sexual harassment training for certain employers. California law, for example, mandates that firms with at least 50 employees employ interactive sexual harassment training to supervisors every two years.

  • Keep an eye on your workplace. Get out and about with your coworkers on a regular basis. Discuss the working atmosphere with them. Inquire about their opinions. Take a look around the office. Are there any offensive posters or notes around? Discuss the situation with your superiors and management. Maintain open lines of communication.

  • All complaints should be taken seriously. If an employee sends in a complaint about sexual harassment, investigate the issue right away.

As a California employee, you should not have to worry about the safety of your job or the quality of your working environment merely because you are exercising your rights. You have rights that protect you from discrimination, unfair treatment, and wrongful termination.


That said, even with strong policies, perpetrators can still target someone. That's why knowing about covert and overt acts of sexual harassment is important to every employee.


If you're still unsure about whether or not you have a case for sexual harassment, contact an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles to get your case reviewed. If it is found to be a viable claim, then your lawyer can guide you through the process of filing your claim to the right agencies or take things to court.

What If I Am Punished For Reporting?

When an employer, agency, or organization takes adverse, unlawful action against an individual employee or applicant because they are participating in a protected activity, it is referred to as retaliation.


So if you filed an employment claim for discrimination or sexual harassment, and your boss punishes you by reducing your pay, unjustifiably reprimanding you, or firing you, then it is considered an illegal act.

What Constitutes Retaliation by an Employer?


Many cases of employer retaliation result in the worker's termination, which can be easily identified as a case of wrongful termination and unlawful retribution.

Other situations, on the other hand, may be more difficult to detect. Here are a few signs that your employer or the company is retaliating against you illegally:

  • Even though your job hasn't changed and you were previously receiving great comments, you've started receiving bad performance assessments.