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Identifying Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

Guha Law Sept. 24, 2021

If you have ever experienced sexual harassment at work in California, you know how difficult and uncomfortable it can be. Workplace sexual harassment can take many different forms, including unwelcome sexual advances or other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment also refers to actions that create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.

Under California law, the offensive conduct doesn’t need to be motivated by the offender’s direct sexual desire. A hostile work environment can be created based on an employee’s actual or perceived sex or gender identity; actual or perceived sexual orientation; or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Victims can be the same sex as the harasser or a different sex. Employees are also often victimized by actions that subject co-workers to a hostile work environment.

There Are Many Degrees of Sexual Harassment

A wide variety of behavior can constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. For example, a company could be held liable for the creation of a hostile work environment by a boss who never actually says anything inappropriate yet hangs up sexually explicit photographs. Inappropriate sexual jokes, questions or comments about actual or perceived sexual preferences, and a variety of other sexualized comments, can also constitute a hostile work environment. The most serious cases of workplace sexual harassment involve physical sexual assault and battery.

Lewd comments, unwelcome advances, and unwanted touching are obvious signs of workplace sexual harassment. Uninvited sexual comments, requests for sexual favors, or inappropriate jokes are not always considered a crime, but workplace sexual harassment always violates the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At its worst, sexual harassment is a crime that can lead to both civil and criminal penalties. Workplace rape, attempted rape, and any other unwelcome touching constitutes sexual assault and battery and can be criminally prosecuted.

What to Do if You Are Being Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexual harassment in the workplace can cause victims tremendous stress, pain and suffering. Sometimes employees who are victims of sexual harassment might be forced to quit due to the treatment they have suffered. Moreover, victims who submit complaints to their employers often face further retaliation up to and including termination.

If you feel you may have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment, consulting with an experienced attorney as soon as possible can help you determine the best option for you. An experienced attorney can help you figure out if and when to file a civil complaint against your employer so that you can pursue compensation for the harm you have suffered. Your attorney may also be able to help you refer the matter to law enforcement if the harassment rises to the level of a crime.