What is Sexual Harassment?

According to the State of California Department of Justice, sexual harassment is defined as, “a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Briefly, sexual harassment refers to both unwelcome sexual advances, or other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature and actions that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment based on an employee’s sex.”

Unfortunately, sexual harassment in the workplace is far too common. Here’s everything you need to know to protect yourself.

What are the Types of Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment comes in two forms — quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Here’s the difference between the two:

Quid Pro Quo - meaning “this for that,” quid pro quo harassment happens when a supervisor hints or blatantly asks for sexual favors in return for employee benefits such as raises, trips, bonuses, and promotions.

Hostile Work Environment - any employee that feels uncomfortable, intimidated or threatened while trying to perform their job is working in a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment does not have to be caused by a supervisor. Co-workers, clients or other business-related associates may also create an uncomfortable work atmosphere.

What are the Warning Signs of Sexual Harassment?

Even with the #MeToo movement in full-force, sexual harassment still occurs and victims may not be sure if what they are experiencing is considered sexual harassment. Whether the harasser is blatant about advances or tends to be evasive in their behaviors, here are the common ways a sexual harasser may try to intimidate you:

  • Standing too close or being “touchy.”
  • Making inappropriate comments about a person’s body or clothing.
  • Asking about your personal life and sexual experiences as well as talking about their own.
  • Frequently asks you to meet alone outside of work or persistently askes for dates after you’ve repeatedly turned them down.
  • Exposes you to pornographic materials.
  • Tries to engage you in sexually charged conversations.

Is Sexual Harassment a Form of Discrimination?

According to theU.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. Every employee has the right to be protected from any type of harassment that creates a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment may be defined as:

  • Discriminatory behaviors against age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or race.
  • Any reasonable person would find the work environment abusive or hostile.
  • The behavior is a persistent problem.
  • The employer knows about the problem and has failed to address the behavior.
  • The victim’s ability to work has been negatively impacted.

Can You Tell the Difference Between Friendliness and Sexual Harassment?

We spend most of our waking hours at work so naturally, we develop in-office friendships with our co-workers, supervisors and sometimes clients, too. However, how can you tell when the boundaries of friendly behavior have been overstepped into sexual harassment? Know these warning signs:

  • Unwanted compliments and comments.
  • Incessant flirting - being repeatedly asked for dates even after turning them down.
  • Inappropriate touching (i.e., physical contact with intimate body parts, touching hair, rubbing your arm or shoulders, grabbing or prolonged hugging).

Why are Men Less Likely to Report Sexual Harassment?

While workplace sexual harassment is a serious matter, men often take it less seriously due to the stigmas that are associated with male behaviors. Unfortunately, real statistics on how often men are sexually harassed in the workplace may never be determined because men are more likely to ignore sexually inappropriate behavior at work. Here’s why:

  • Fear of being mocked by co-workers
  • Fear of retaliation from their employer
  • Fear that being harassed by another male in the workplace may implicate their own sexual preferences

What Happens if I’m Being Harassed After Work Hours?

On the surface, it may not seem likely that sexual harassment would follow you home after your workday, but with social media, emails, and text messaging being a normal part of everyday life, harassers can still contact their victims even after the workday ends. Whether you are being sexually harassed at work or after work hours, you have the right to be protected.

It’s important not to engage with the harasser and report every incident as you would if you were being harassed while working. Document everything, save emails and text messages and take screenshots of comments on social media.

Is Sexual Harassment a Crime?

While being sexually harassed at work violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is a form of discrimination, it’s not considered a crime unless the harassment has led to sexual assault. Although sexual harassment isn’t a crime in California, you can still file a lawsuit against your harasser.

Being repeatedly harassed, even after taking up the incidents with your supervisor or human resources department, is not acceptable. When suing for sexual harassment, it’s important to document every encounter as well as note any witnesses to the harassment. Be as specific as possible — for example, what comments and types of gestures were made, how often you reported the incident, who you reported the incident to, etc.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, we understand how difficult it can be to speak out against your harasser, especially after exhausting all possibilities for getting the behavior to stop. Contact Levin & Nalbandyan, LLP today at (213) 267-3640 to learn more about your rights and how we can help.