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How Sexual Harassment Affects The Workplace

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Workplace Sex2ual 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 with 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 means "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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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 several 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 for 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 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 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 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:

    1. Define what constitutes sexual harassment

    2. Declare unequivocally that you will not accept sexual harassment

    3. Declare that any wrongdoers will be disciplined or fired.

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

    5. Declare that each complaint received will be thoroughly investigated, and

    6. 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 their 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.

    1. 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 for supervisors every two years.

  • Keep an eye on your workplace. Get out and about with your coworkers regularly. 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 immediately.

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 taking 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, 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.


On the other hand, other situations 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.

  • Your to-do list has grown.

  • You were assigned to less appealing shifts.

  • You've been assigned fewer shifts.

  • You were passed over for a promotion that you felt you earned.

  • You were refused access to necessary training, equipment, or other tools to do your work.

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Whistleblowing is another well-known example of employer retaliation. Employees are protected by California Labor Code 1102.5 LC if they report their employer for breaking the law. Here are some examples of whistleblowing:

  • Notifying a government agency about suspected illegal behavior

  • Notifying a supervisor or regulatory team at the company about a possible infringement of law (such as safety standards) so that the claim can be investigated.

  • Providing information or agreeing to testify against your employer for wrongdoing

If you feel your employer tried to get back at you as a response to filing claims to protect your employee rights, consult with a California Employment Attorney to help you build your case.

Your Legal Options After Retaliation In California


In California, employer retaliation is treated seriously. In 2014, three new bills entered into effect that strengthened worker safeguards in the state, including:

  • Expanded grounds for a judgment of retaliation by an employer

  • Whistleblower protections have been extended.

  • Personal information can be updated without fear of retaliation.

  • Increased sanctions for retaliation by employers.

  • Employers who threaten to report workers' immigration status in retaliation for exercising their rights may have their company licenses revoked.

Finally, hiring an experienced California Employment Attorney to analyze your employment circumstances and case to decide whether you were the victim of unlawful employer retaliation is always suggested.

What Does Wrongful Termination Mean?

California is considered an "at-will" state, meaning employees can leave anytime. This means that most employees' employers have the right to fire or terminate them at any moment, as long as it isn't for an illegal reason. Although the termination may be unjust, it is not necessarily illegal unless it is done in violation of specific legislation.


Job termination may be illegal in the following circumstances:

  • Discrimination. If you were fired due to unlawful discrimination based on your age, race, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital status, or any other protected characteristic, you could file a lawsuit.

  • Retaliation. If you were fired as a way to get back at you for exercising your rights, such as taking FMLA leave, submitting a sexual harassment complaint, or supporting someone else's claim, you might be entitled to compensation.

  • Breach of contract of employment. If you had a written or verbal employment contract and were fired in violation of the contract's terms and conditions.

  • Infringement on the state or federal labor laws. If you were fired for being a whistleblower, you were fired in violation of California or federal law.

It can be difficult to show that you were fired for one of the reasons listed above, which is why you should consult with one of our knowledgeable California Employment Attorney

to see if you have a legitimate wrongful termination claim.

Retaliatory Termination vs. Constructive Dismissal


Although according to California Employment Law, Wrongful Termination is defined as the illegal firing of an employee, an employee may also file a claim for constructive dismissal if he or she feels compelled to leave a position.

California acknowledges that an employer may make working conditions for an employee so unpleasant for them because they belong to a protected group that any reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.


In a complicated case like this, it's best to consult with a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to help you understand your current grounds and possible legal options after a constructive dismissal.

1000Attorneys.com is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a California Employment Attorney best fit to handle your unique case.

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