California is governed by three sets of laws that prohibit workplace sexual harassment, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Fair Employment and Housing Act (called “FEHA”) and the California Constitution. These laws make workplace sexual harassment in California illegal under federal law and state law. In addition, sexual harassment is also prohibited under the policies of most employers.

You have the right to a work environment free from sexual assault, hostility, and harassment. Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment can be challenging. While sexual harassment is officially defined as any conduct that creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating environment, oftentimes certain behaviors are difficult to categorize as official sexual harassment. Learn more about how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace below.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Along with the federal and state laws listed above, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) has established guidelines and defines sexual harassment as any unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition is inclusive of a great deal of offensive behavior, so how can you know what crosses the line regarding sexual harassment in the workplace?

Know Your Limits

Each person might have a different threshold with respect to what they deem inappropriate or offensive. Each off-handed comment made in the workplace does not rise to the level of sexual harassment. So, how can you know when someone is being disrespectful versus actual harassment?

At the end of the day, you need to consider how the conduct of others has affected you and your work environment. Most people will not file a sexual harassment claim based on one off-color comment heard from a co-worker. However, even one sexually aggressive behavior that intimidates or threatens might certainly rise to the level of harassment.

If you feel uncomfortable, afraid, or threatened with a particular unwelcome behavior from either a manager or co-worker, you have the right to file a sexual harassment claim. Sexual harassment claims might include:

  • Physical conduct: touching, assaulting, prohibiting, impeding or blocking your movements or putting their arm on your waist or shoulder, whispering inappropriate comments, standing too close, back rubs, “accidental” brushes against your body, etc.
  • Making sexual gestures at your or in your presence
  • Making derogatory comments with a sexual overtone towards you or other co-workers
  • Discussion of any sexual acts or activities, either of a personal nature or generally
  • Using sexually charged epithets, slurs, and jokes; verbal comments regarding an individual’s body, or sexually degrading words or name-calling used to describe an individual
  • Using crude, vulgar language or offensive sexual gestures
  • Displaying sexually charged pictures publicly or in their office/cubicle
  • Sexual remarks made about your appearance/clothing
  • Continued requests to meet alone after work
  • Asking you about your own sexual experiences
  • A “quid pro quo” offer of benefits for sexual favors, meaning offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
  • Any unwanted sexual propositions, with or without the promise of favors
  • Making or threatening retaliatory action after receiving a negative response to sexual advances, including threats to reduce your hours, benefits, or pay if you don’t comply with a sexual request

These examples are only a few that illustrate how someone can feel intimidated and be sexually harassed in the workplace. One certain way to confirm that you are being harassed is if the behavior does not stop after you have indicated you feel uncomfortable. Your feelings matter, and if you experience anxiety, worry, fear, or dread with a co-worker or manager who constantly behaves inappropriately, you’re probably being harassed.

An Advocate by Your Side

At California Employment Counsel, APC, we know that you may feel uncertain whether the behavior in your office rises to the level of sexual harassment. It can feel terrifying to come forward and file a sexual harassment claim. If you are uncertain whether you have experienced sexual harassment at work, your employer refuses to take action regarding your sexual harassment report, or worse, retaliates against somehow due to your sexual harassment claim, contact one of our experienced attorneys today. Our experienced sexual harassment attorneys in Orange County are available to schedule a consultation to discuss your case of sexual harassment in the workplace. Contact us online or call (714) 462-8376 to discuss your legal rights today.